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What we think: Taxing districts need to answer

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The newspaper must do a better job of being your eyes and ears when it comes to how your dollars are being spent.

We now have a clearer picture of how many of our tax dollars this year will be going to the 16 separate taxing districts around our county. At least the property tax payments recorded by Sheriff Mike Armstrong have showed us how our hard-earned $30 million is being divvied up.

Yet, although we have this dollar amount and a thread of an idea about the tax distribution, we truly don’t know how that ball of yarn unwinds.

And we owe you an apology.

We simply should have been watching more closely and offering you more information along the way.

Many of you have been limited – as have we – in developing a clear focus on these districts. If those dollars are being spent by Shelby County Fiscal Court or by Shelby County Public Schools, we have had a 20/20 idea of exactly how they are being distributed and why. For all the rest, the clues are only vague at best.

We may understand what an entity does – the library and the fire departments, for instance, seem pretty elementary – but we really don’t know, do we, how a particular district operates?

These taxing districts make it simple for you to contribute your dollars, but they make it difficult for you to see how they spend them. But you have a legal right to every piece of that information.

Maybe you would like to attend a meeting, be part of a taxing district’s board or even just see the spreadsheet each month when the bank accounts are balanced.

You have to seek out that information.

You want to know who is in charge and who makes the decisions. Your representatives may appoint people to run these districts, but you don’t know who really runs them.

You have to seek out that information.

You want to be sure those districts won’t surprise you by raising your property taxes – or understand why they might – and are in fact solvent?

You have to seek out that information.

We’re not suggesting that anyone is doing anything wrong. In fact, as far as we can tell, each taxing district is fulfilling its statutory obligations for having its meeting times, financial records and minutes posted publically, and apparently they faithfully have advertised their decisions as required.

They just don’t make it easy for you to find and respond to this information.

And that’s where we’ve failed you. The Sentinel-News is responsible for representing your interests and being your eyes and ears. We should be gathering and disseminating that information on a regular basis. You shouldn’t have to go any other to place to find answers to: Who? What? When? Where? Why? And how?

We promise you that as this year unfolds you are going to have a better idea of how those questions are answered, of how that ball of yarn is in fact unwound. We may not find every answer you want, but we at least should be able to allow you to ask informed questions.

And we want to be sure of one key element: If you have a question about something, we want to help you find the answers – and not simply among magistrates, the school board and city governments.

We want you to have a full grasp of how your money is being spent and be sure each group is sticking to its knitting. We will be wound up for that.