HAZARD — State Auditor Adam Edelen came to Hazard on Monday to discuss special districts with board members from the Kentucky River Area Development District. Edelen is currently working to create a comprehensive list of all special districts so they can better be tracked and held accountable.
Edelen was sworn into office only six months ago, but has already taken on some lofty tasks, including his latest initiative working to straighten out issues with the special districts in Kentucky. Special districts can be any entity that works on state or county money or has the ability to impose a tax or fee, but whose members are not elected by the public.
This can mean a very wide range of agencies across the state, from water districts to soil conservation to volunteer fire departments. The difficulty is that to date no state or local government agencies are charged with keeping any sort of comprehensive records on special districts.
Lately, several special districts have come under fire following highly publicized misuse of funds. The library district in Lexington along with the airport board were two of the largest scandals bringing to light just how little is known about the special districts across Kentucky.
Edelen said that current estimates indicate that there are between 1,000 and 1,800 special districts in Kentucky, and they receive between $500 million to $1.5 billion in tax revenue every year that is not being monitored by any government agency.
“That is what we know, and it is not a lot,” said Edelen.
Edelen came the KRADD office in Perry County Park on Monday to talk directly to board members of the special districts within the KRADD area. He sent out a survey to boards of the special districts a few months back to try to begin the process of gathering data. He said that by the end of 2012 he hopes to have a good handle on the basic information for many of these districts in Kentucky, noting that during these difficult economic times, knowing how money is being spent is important for those being forced to pay for it.
“People are working harder and making less, and what we owe to them is that any entity that has the ability to take from the taxpayer should to be held accountable to them,” said Edelen.
Currently, one of the major problems with the system in place for special districts is that over 100 years of legislative action have resulted in over 1,000 different statutes written to govern them, but none are comprehensive.
One of the main questions from the different board members of the special districts at the meeting on Monday was if they would be able to receive training on how to be in compliance with the state in terms as bookkeeping. Edelen said that that is a priority and will be something that is addressed. He said training is a priority to make sure that all special districts understand their responsibility.
Another issue is that many special districts work on very small budgets and cannot use $5,000 of it to have an audit every year. Edelen said that he wants to empower citizens to look in to the way these organizations are using money. The special districts will have to be accountable to the state, but the community will be able to check up on them.
The attendees at the meeting in Hazard seemed happy with the changes since it will give them the ability to prove how they use their money, and that they are being fiscally responsible to the community.