Updates needed to ensure transparency


By D. Anthony Botkin - abotkin@aimmediamidwest.com



Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague said he recognizes the value in continuing the legacy of the website OhioCheckbook.com, which was created by his predecessor, Josh Mandel.

The nearly 5-year-old website, operated by the Office of the Ohio Treasurer, went online in December 2014.

“Taxpayers should have the ability to see what their tax dollars are being used for,” Sprague said during an interview with The Gazette earlier this year. “The Checkbook has been a great initiative, and we’ve continued to operationalize it to make it more efficient. The easier you make for everybody to use and comply with and update, the better.”

“That’s our focus,” he added.

According to the Office of the Ohio Treasurer, the voluntary program currently includes 1,134 entities statewide that post their government’s financial data on the treasurer’s website.

According to Brittany Halpin, Sprague’s press secretary, as of April, the breakdown of entities includes 43 counties, 421 cities and villages, 174 school districts and charter schools, 355 townships, and 141 others that include common pleas courts, libraries, special districts, colleges and universities in Ohio.

“We’d love to add some new features to it to allow people to do some analysis,” Sprague said, adding that would include a caveat. “We have to do that within the constraints of our budget.”

According to Halpin, there are 26 individual government entities within the Delaware County area that participate in OhioCheckbook.com.

Those entities include Delaware County, Court of Common Pleas, District Library, Municipal Court, Soil & Water Conservation; both the cities of Delaware and Powell; the villages of Ashley, Galena, Ostrander, Shawnee Hills and Sunbury; the townships of Berkshire, Berlin, Brown, Concord, Delaware, Genoa, Liberty, Orange, Oxford, Porter, Radnor, and Troy; and Delaware City Schools.

Ostrander joined OhioCheckbook.com in May, making it the most recent government body in Delaware County to do so.

“I am excited for Ostrander to join the OhioCheckbook program,” stated Ostrander Mayor Robert Taylor in a press release issued by the Office of the Ohio Treasurer back when the village joined. “Ohio Checkbook is a great tool for residents to understand how their dollars are spent. This tool brings us one step closer towards our goal of transparent government.”

However, since the program is voluntary, in order for the individual entities to remain transparent the data needs to be regularly updated.

In a quick survey of the county entities mentioned above, many have continued to update their data as recently as July; however, there are few who haven’t updated since 2015.

Liberty Township hasn’t updated its postings since December 2017.

“I forgot,” said Nancy Denutte, the township’s fiscal officer.

But after thinking about it, she said The Gazette was the first to ask about the township’s postings.

“I’ve had nobody ask about it,” she said. “Usually someone will call from the state and say why don’t you load? They have asked us to load the data once a year. We usually do it after the audit.”

Denutte said the program is easy to use. “You basically just push a button,” she said.

Denutte added use of the program is free, but “I don’t think it’s worth the money” being spent on it.

Shortly after speaking with The Gazette, Denutte reported the township’s update for 2018 has been uploaded.

Sprague said maintaining OhioCheckbook.com isn’t cheap.

“It’s an expensive program to run,” he said. “So, you want it to be relative because you are paying money for it. However, it’s a voluntary program at the local level. If you want to be transparent, we are going to give you an opportunity to do that by coming onto the open checkbook. But at the end of the day, it’s your data and your taxpayer dollars.”

Sprague added his office doesn’t want to discourage anyone from posting things online and not having transparency.

“It’s unique to the jurisdictions on whether they keep things up-to-date,” he said. “We have now reached the mark where 78% of the population of the state of Ohio is able to see at least one layer of local government online in the Checkbook. We’re making progress, we’re going to continue to work on it.”

For more information on OhioCheckbook.com or to search for a particular entity, go to http://tos.ohio.gov/Transparency/Home.

https://www.delgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2019/08/web1_Ohio-Treasurer-Emblem-copy.jpeg

By D. Anthony Botkin

abotkin@aimmediamidwest.com

Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.

Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.