Stumbo, House Democrats embrace reforms to special taxing districts

11/30/2012 06:28 AM

House Democrats plan to run with State Auditor Adam Edelen’s push to increase oversight and transparency of special taxing districts across the state.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said a bill aimed at increasing scrutiny of these boards and agencies that can tax or impose fees will get the coveted designation of House Bill 1 in 2013 — symbolic of being a top priority.

These special taxing districts, which Edelen dubbed ghost government in his review, include library and volunteer fire districts as well as sewer districts, health departments and dozens of others. They collected more than $2.7 billion in taxes and fees last year, Edelen’s review found.

Edelen said again Thursday that the law hasn’t kept up with requiring proper oversight:

Stumbo said most taxing districts seem to be run well. But the lack of consistent oversight can allow some to get out of control.

For instance, the auditor’s office found problems the Garrett Volunteer Fire District in Stumbo’s home county of Floyd. The review found questionable spending and pornography videos on the district’s computers, according to the Herald-Leader.

Stumbo added that the law also must change to allow special districts that outlive their usefulness to be disbanded.

State Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown — and the new Senate floor leader — has sponsored similar legislation to crack down on those special districts. Last session, Sen. John Schickel of Union joined Thayer.

“For Sen. Schickel and me it’s been great to see state-wide elected official take an issue that’s important to us and shed some light on it,” Thayer said. “It’s even more gratifying that the Speaker of the House make that House Bill 1. It’s not very often that an issue that’s been championed for seven years by Republicans be promoted by Democrats.”

The idea first came out of the 2005 local taxation task force, Thayer said.


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