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By Tommy Turner
LaRue County Judge/Executive
President, Kentucky Association of Counties
Abraham Lincoln was once asked “for what purpose does government exist.” Lincoln stated "The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do for themselves in their separate and individual capacities.” Lincoln’s quote aptly describes the purpose and need for special districts in Kentucky. They enable us to do collectively what we cannot separately.
I applaud the efforts of State Auditor Adam Edelen for addressing the issue of special district accountability in Kentucky. A requirement for citizens to have confidence in government and the services it provides is to have an open, transparent and accountable system. The content of HB 1 ensures this goal is reached. However, potential changes in the language may stall or kill the effort. We cannot let this happen!
Proposed changes to HB 1 in the Kentucky Senate include requiring Fiscal Courts (or unified governments as the case may be) to approve annual tax rates for special districts. Numerous reasons can be given why this creates problems for special districts and county government. Among them include:
* Requiring fiscal court approval of annual tax rates has the potential to adversely affect county bond ratings. Issuance of bonds, whether it be for the construction of a firehouse, health department, library or other need is a necessary function for government operations. Bonds are tied to the special district tax rate to ensure payment and to access the lowest possible interest rate (every dollar saved is a dollar saved for you and me, the taxpayer). If fiscal courts are the determiner of the rate, then the bond indebtedness will be counted against the overall county bonded indebtedness, not the individual special district. It will have a cumulative effect with special district bonds being added together and erroneously reflecting against the county bond rate. This has the potential to cause a county’s bond rating to be lowered, costing each resident of that community. Why should we pay more to construct a bridge, pave a road or run a sewer or water line when it is not necessary?
* Each special district rate is governed by HB 44, which limits annual income to be increased no more than 4 percent. Any attempt to go beyond 4 percent requires a voter referendum where the citizens decide. While it may seem appropriate to have the fiscal court as the watchdog, we already have one, state law. I’m a conservative individual and do not believe we need new laws when existing ones work.
* If the fiscal court becomes responsible for special district tax rates adversely affecting a county’s financial outlook, attempts may be made to eliminate HB 44 and simply place the special district as a function of county government. Do you want the protection of HB 44 removed? I have been in government nearly 30 years and with the proposed Senate changes I can see this as a possibility. This must not happen!
* The services provided by special districts: ambulance, health departments, libraries, extension service and others should be provided beyond the realm of politics. Requiring the fiscal court to have financial authority over the districts can interject politics unrelated to the provision of service. If a school nurse is needed requiring funding for that position, shouldn’t the decision be made by a group of health professionals such as doctors, nurses and dentists that are required to compose a board of health rather than the fiscal court who may have members with a score to settle on some unrelated issue? It can happen if the proposed Senate changes to HB 1 are allowed to take place.
The language of HB 1, as passed by a bipartisan effort in the Kentucky House of Representatives 96 - 1, must remain in its original form to ensure passage and prevent dire consequences for the future. It will provide transparency and accountability with an online database for all to see and will restore confidence in the provision of necessary services vital to each county and each citizen.
Please join me by contacting your Kentucky State Senator at 1-800-372-7181 or by email at www.lrc.ky.gov and going to the Senator’s quick link on the right and tell them to adopt HB 1 as approved by Republicans and Democrats in the Kentucky House.