Have no fear, the vast majority of the taxing entities in Franklin County guard your money well and try to be good stewards when it comes to spending those tax dollars. However, in the county we have 58 taxing entities and every now and then there is a problem.
The former fire chief of the St. Clair Fire Protection District has been indicted on fraud and multiple tax evasion charges, involving his alleged misuse of about $593,236 between January 2006 and September 2011. Former Chief Eric Hinson said he is innocent and the U.S. Attorney’s office always points out the defendant in an indictment is innocent until proven otherwise.
Federal indictments do not come without thorough investigations, however. The number of tax dollars at question in this case is extremely high.
How could this much money be spent over more than a period of four years and not be questioned? The St. Clair firefighters were unaware of the misuse of the funds. They were aware of the investigation and last September they were told only the chief was the subject of the investigation. Hinson resigned when the investigation began. Service of the firefighters has not been an issue.
Depending on a district’s assessed valuation, tax revenue can be high and board members must have a solid accountability process. Board members also need to be alert to the expenditures and raise questions about any spending that seems to be out of order. Hinson served on the board and as treasurer while in the role of chief. It is unwise, even unlawful in some cases, for an employee of a taxing district to be on the board of directors unless the law specifies that it’s okay. Conflicts of interest can occur in a taxing district and their attorneys need to be consulted.
There is little or no oversight over many taxing districts. We don’t doubt for a Franklin County second that Sunshine Law violations occur. All board members of a district should be informed of the Sunshine Law.
Our representatives in Jefferson City need to examine the current law concerning taxing entities, especially for the need to address possible conflicts of interest. Also, people in these special taxing districts need to pay more attention to them, attend board meetings, especially budget hearings. They also need to use attorneys and CPA firms for their audits.
The media does not have enough reporters to cover all of the meetings of these entities. In fact, very few districts have media representatives at their meetings.
The residents of taxing districts need to pay more attention to these entities. After all, they are spending your money. Generally, there is no oversight and little or no interest in their operations unless service is poor.