FRANKFORT — The Republican-controlled state Senate on Wednesday passed an amended version of a bill aimed at providing accountability to special taxing districts, but the Democratic sponsor of the bill said he won’t agree to the change.
The amendment was added to the bill earlier in the day in committee by Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and would require the districts to submit any requests for tax increases to fiscal courts for their approval.
The bill passed the Senate 23-10, garnering the minimum number of votes for a bill which raises revenue in a 30-day session. The bill charges districts fees to pay for posting financial data online.
The vote was almost but not entirely on party lines: Sen. Carroll Gibson, R- Leitchfield, voted against it saying he fears the harm it may do libraries. Democratic Sen. Walter Blevins of Morehead voted for the bill to get it to a conference committee with the Democratic-controlled House.
Still, Blevins said Thayer’s amendment “hijacks” the original intent of the bill.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, the bill’s original sponsor and state Auditor Adam Edelen, who called for the changes set out in Stumbo’s bill, both said they will not agree to Thayer’s amendment.
Thayer has long sought to make the districts accountable to taxpayers by making them get approval from elected county government officials for their budgets and any tax increases.
But in what he called “a spirit of bi-partisanship,” Thayer offered an amendment to give fiscal courts a veto on any tax increases by the districts which exceed the amount of revenue collected by the district the previous year.
Stumbo’s bill is the result of a massive review Edelen conducted of the taxing districts and calls for the districts to submit financial information to the Department of Local Government which would then post that information on a website available for public review.
Taxing district boards also would have to comply with their counties’ ethics code and any district which failed to submit the required financial information would be subject to a full audit by Edelen’s office with the cost borne by the taxing district.
But, Edelen has staunchly opposed getting into governance issues of the districts, many of which were created by fiscal courts to provide services which the local county government can’t afford from its general fund.
He has consistently told taxing districts he wouldn’t support putting fiscal courts in charge of the district’s taxing ability.
“I’m not going to go back on my word that was given to so many of the good people that were part of this process,” Edelen said after the committee vote Wednesday.
“This amendment hasn’t a chance of passing the House of Representatives,” Edelen continued. “There’s not an ounce of daylight between the Speaker of the House and I on this issue.”
Stumbo, too, said Thayer’s amendment is unacceptable and, “the vast majority of fiscal courts we’ve talked to don’t want that responsibility.”
Many county officials fear making them responsible for the districts’ taxing authority will make the counties responsible for the districts’ bonds and lower the bond ratings for counties.
Most of the districts were established after passage of House Bill 44 in the late 1970s which limits the growth of tax revenues to no more than 4 percent more than total revenues from the previous year. That limited local governments’ ability to fund growing service demands for such things as fire departments, conservation districts, libraries and water and sewer districts.
So they established the taxing districts with their own taxing authority. That authority is also subject to HB 44. Under the bill, a taxing entity has three options on setting tax rates: at a level to produce the same revenues as the previous year (compensating rate); at a level which will produce 4 percent more revenues (the percentage applies to the revenues, not the rates – it is possible as property values increase to lower the rate but bring in more revenue); or to raise the rate to produce more than 4 percent growth in revenues.
But the latter is subject to voter recall.
Thayer’s amendment would allow districts to set a compensating rate – producing the same revenue as the previous year – without fiscal court approval. But if a district wished to take the 4 percent rate, fiscal court would have 30 days to veto the change. If the court didn’t act within 30 days, the rate increase would automatically be approved.
Thayer told the committee his amendment would not affect the provisions of HB 44, but that’s incorrect. Under questioning after the meeting, Thayer reluctantly conceded the amendment does change the ability of a taxing district to take the 4 percent in revenue growth.
A conference committee made up of members from both chambers will have to reconcile the differences between the two bills if it is to become law – or one chamber will have to accede to the other’s bill which isn’t likely.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.
Has little chance in House
- Local News
YMCA, county district to provide after-school care
The Telford YMCA is partnering with the Madison County School District to provide after-school child care for kindergarten and elementary students.
YMCA Executive Director Dave Wallace and Madison County School Superintendent Elmer Thomas announced the partnership Monday afternoon.
Memories bloom in May’s garden
After realizing a story was being written about 96-year-old Lucille May, tenants of Willis Manor gathered in the lobby to share stories about her.
Affectionately called “Mamaw” by other residents and workers at the apartment building, May has spent the four years of her residence transforming an outdoor garden that was overtaken by weeds. It’s now a thriving flowerbed, complete with interesting rocks, decorations and conversation.
Water Street storm-water digging begins
Caisson holes were drilled and then filled with concrete and steel poles Monday to create a retaining structure to shore up the Allstate Insurance building foundations' firm when excavation for the Water Street Stormwater Improvement Project begins.
Digging for 20 ton, 6 by 7 foot concrete box culverts will begin today, if weather permits, said Jason Hart, Richmond’s director of Planning and Zoning. The culverts will help reduce the likelihood of flooding on Water Street by carrying storm water under Main Street, the CVS parking lot and Irvine Street to a stream, he said.
RPD: Bottle bomb injures man, damages neighbor’s home
Richmond Police on Friday charged Robert Abney, 30, of Moberly Avenue, in connection with a May 30 explosion that injured Abney and damaged a neighbor’s home.
Officers were dispatched May 30 to a residence in the 500 block of Moberly Avenue to investigate the report of an explosion.
They found the remains of a plastic bottle bomb near a residence adjoining Moberly’s, according to an RPD news release. A wall of the occupied home was smoldering and grass was burned in the area, it added.
Two led police on I-75 chase from Berea
Berea Police found a man passed out and intoxicated inside his crashed vehicle on Interstate 75 Wednesday, according to a police report.
Steven Coffey, 34, of Berea, had slurred speech and was unsteady on his feet when officers arrived at the vehicle, the police report stated. They determined he was under the influence of drugs, the report stated.
A race to the finish line
Sheltered by overcast sky and supported by a cool breeze, teams competed Saturday morning in the second annual HeartChase at Richmond Centre.
Hops & Vine Festival raises money for humane society
Downtown Richmond’s Hops and Vine Festival started more than two years ago with a question.
Bill Clinton will stump for Grimes in eastern Kentucky
Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is again calling in the “Big Dog” in her quest to unseat five-term Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Former President Bill Clinton will join Grimes on Aug. 6 for a campaign rally in eastern Kentucky, according to a campaign official who would provide no further details.
Cattle farmers enjoying ‛perfect storm’
Demand is up, and cattle are selling for record prices.
At the same time, corn prices are down and fuel prices have stabilized.
That adds up to a “perfect storm” for Kentucky cattle farmers, said Gary Kelly of Paint Lick as he ate lunch Friday with his brother Jimmy at the restaurant across from the Blue Grass Stockyards.
Fire training tower going up
A new training tower for the Richmond Fire Department is rising on Four Mile Road.
Construction began Thursday on the four-story, steel-framed structure.
- More Local News Headlines
- YMCA, county district to provide after-school care