State Auditor Adam Edelen’s recent push for greater accountability from the Commonwealth’s 1200+ special districts places NKAPC among those agencies in the top tier. The resulting ‘Compliance’ designation earned through this process signifies the organization meets state requirements for financial decision making and accountability.
A recent news release from the Auditor’s office said that the current system of financial oversight of these special districts treat those that comply with state laws the same way as those operating outside of it. It says “the status quo is a muddled morass of statutes, bizarre classifications, uncertain responsibilities, confusing mandates and the absence of meaningful tools to compel compliance.”
The news release announced the establishment of an online public database and accompanying report to shine new light on these districts. This category of Kentucky local governmental entities includes libraries, sanitation and water districts, public health departments, fire and ambulance districts, transit authorities, and river port authorities to name a few.
“We certainly support what the auditor’s trying to accomplish,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, executive director. “NKAPC has always pursued annual audits of its books. Our budgets have always been approved by elected officials accountable to the taxpayers, and our books have always been open and transparent for anybody with a question.”
The Citizen Auditor Initiative database and “Ghost Government: A Report on Special Districts in Kentucky” are the end results of a six-month long effort to survey known special districts and local elected officials and examine more than 1000 statutes that govern the most prevalent form of government in the commonwealth.
“To be sure, there is a difference between the districts themselves and the scandalous lack of system-wide oversight of them,” Edelen said in the news release. “Their work is critical to the communities they serve, many board members put in considerable hours on a voluntary basis and the vast majority are honest stewards of the tax dollars they spend.”
“This is the first time that information on the state's taxing districts has been made available in an online, sortable format,” said Logan Morford, vice president of transparency of the Bluegrass Institute. “As a result, citizens will be able to easily find critical information about how their hard-earned tax dollars are spent.”
The report includes legislative recommendations aimed at cleaning up the statutes that govern special districts, adding teeth to compel compliance with reporting requirements, creating an online centralized registry for special districts to report their financials and establishing education and ethics for special district board members and staff.
“This is really a significant service to the public interest,” said Richard Beliles, executive director of Common Cause of Kentucky. “This is a major, major improvement in government for the people.”
The auditor’s office worked with the Department for Local Government, members of a legislative task force studying special districts, and more than a dozen organizations that offered their support of this effort.
The full report and database can be found on the auditor’s website