FRANKFORT, Ky. (WYMT) - "Ghost Government." It sounds like a hit spy novel, but in fact it is the title given to the state auditor's new report on special districts in Kentucky.
Special districts work alongside local governments. They include fire departments, libraries, sanitation districts and more. The auditor's office has identified more than 1,200 special districts in Kentucky, with 17 in Perry County alone. These organizations make up a nearly $3 billion layer of government that state auditor Adam Edelen says has operated in the shadows for decades.
Edelen takes issue with the fact these special districts have the authority to levy taxes or fines free of public scrutiny. He argues this has led to several abuses through the years, including the recent scandal involving thousands of dollars in questionable spending at the Garrett Area Volunteer Fire Department. The auditor is calling for more oversight in the system.
"Those institutions that have the ability to compel the public to pay a fee or tax ought to be accountable to them, and by modernizing and reforming the system, we can achieve both aims," he said.
Along with the report, the auditor's office has launched an online database that aims to bring transparency to special districts' actions.
"What we have today, for the first time, is a independent platform that allows folks who are doing it the right way to point to public information that's now readily accessible to people in the public to demonstrate that they are meeting this basic level of accountability," he said.
While the auditor's report does call for greater transparency among special districts, it does point out certain entities that are doing their job right. Among them are the state's libraries. As the report points out, the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives does not provide funding to its libraries until they complete an extensive report. Librarians we talked to say they recognize their responsibility to the community.
"They are our boss, you know. If it wasn't for them we would not have our jobs where we're at, so we want to provide the community with their needs and we listen to the community when they come in," said Elaine Couch, director of the Perry County Public Library.
Edelen says the organizations that are doing things the right way should not be lumped in with those that are not.
The auditor is calling for revisions to the Kentucky Revised Statutes that address special districts. He also wants to see additional safeguards put in place to give "teeth" to existing laws.
More information is available at www.auditor.ky.gov. The Citizen Auditor Initiative can be found at www.citizenauditor.ky.gov.