Hidden donation in farm tag renewals

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By Robin Bass

When legislators passed a bill to allow farmers to donate $10 to the Agricultural Program Trust Fund in 2009, apparently no one noticed the provision that stated the voluntary contribution “will be automatically added to the cost of registration or renewal.” No one noticed, that is, until farmers began paying for their farm vehicle tags this month.

Spencer County resident Lawrence Trageser was one of those who not only noticed that his renewal statements had jumped from $21 to $31, he began asking questions. First, he sought answers from the county clerk’s office and then from his legislators. What Trageser, and perhaps dozens of others, learned was that hidden in his bill was a voluntary donation that did not appear to be voluntary.

“It’s very deceptive,” said Ky. Senator Gary Tapp, “and that’s why I filed the bill.”

Tapp (R-Shelbyville) filed SB 174 stating that “to require that voluntary donations for the agricultural program trust fund accompanying farm vehicle registrations be listed separately on any notices and that the voluntary contribution not be automatically added to the cost of registration.”

The bill has been sitting in the Senate’s agriculture committee since Feb. 25 with little action. Tapp said the bill’s future is now in the hands of the committee chair.

Representatives Brad Montell (R-Shelbyville), Hubert Collins (D-Wittensville) and Mike Denham (D-Maysville), however, have been more successful. House bill 489 which essentially makes the same changes as SB 174 was passed unanimously by the House Monday as part of the consent orders of the day.

Montell, who was a co-sponsor of the house bill, said Trageser and others who called him were right.

“There was no distinction between the voluntary donation and the fee. It’s deceptive the way it was done, but this is an easy fix,” said Montell.

In addition to fixing the way donations are collected on farm vehicle registrations, HB 489 also requires that any voluntary donations associated with specialty tags must be listed separately on notices.

The house bill now moves to the Senate for their review.

In the meantime, county clerks have been instructed to inform individuals who renew their farm tags about the hidden donation and explain that it is optional.

Deputy Clerk Abbi Nation said she is not sure what the state will do if anyone that has already paid wants a refund.

“I guess you’d have to call the Agriculture department about that,” she said.

Tapp said he doubted anyone will be able to get a refund if they paid the voluntary donation without their knowledge.

“It would be a hard thing to prove,” said Tapp.

The Agricultural Program Trust Fund, created by House Bill 100 (2009 series) is a separate revolving fund to be administered by the Department of Agriculture and is to be used for agricultural programs administered by the department.  The fund also may accept contributions from other sources besides the voluntary donation on farm vehicle registrations. Any balances in the fund at the end of the fiscal year will carry forward into the next year.

In 2009, Agriculture Commissioner Ritchie Farmer publicly applauded the bill becoming law.

“This law will help the Kentucky Department of Agriculture carry out the programs Kentuckians expect and deserve,” Farmer was quoted as saying.