By Karen Cornelius
Vermilion City Council met on Monday, October 23, and watched a presentation from a state treasury department representative concerning Vermilion’s readiness to go online and join the ohiocheckbook.com site to show all its financial transactions from 2012 through 2016. Once the city rolls out onto this website, the general public can use this site which shows how the local government spends its money.
State Treasury Department Deputy Director of Public Affairs Dan Risko gave a demonstration to city council to show how easy and interactive the website is. He said this has been available for a few years for the state of Ohio to show its spending transparency. Before this came about, Risko said Ohio was 46th in government transparency. He said the treasury department looked at the top states and decided to use technology to show how the state spends its money. They launched in 2014 and Ohio is now first in the nation.
It soon followed that this can also be done at the level of local governments so the state offered local townships, villages, cities, and school districts the same opportunity free of charge and started working with accounting software providers on local levels. To date, 1,200 local governments have voluntarily agreed to participate and put their financial histories on the website. Right now there are annual updates, but the city can update its information whenever they want. The website has everything from an actual check book register to graphs, and specific department requests. The public can look back at previous years and see payments to vendors, spending by departments, etc. All this should show the public where the money is going.
Councilwoman Barb Brady asked as new years are added on annually, do the older records drop off. Risko said they stay to give context. Councilman Fred Ostrander said a lot of people want to know what’s going on now, in real time, not historically, or 2016. Finance director Brian Keller said this can be approached on what council wants. He said people can still ask for public records if they want to know about current projects being paid. He asked council if they want to go live this week or how he should proceed.
Council president Steve Herron wanted to put the topic on the Finance Committee in November while other members wanted to go live now. Councilman Jim Forthofer suggested they update quarterly instead of annually. Keller said his recommendation would be to start annually unless they start to receive a lot of requests. Herron stated that this should probably be up to the administration to decide. No ordinance is necessary because this is a free service.
Keller stated that if they go live this week, the public will see the finances through December 31, 2016. The year 2017 would come up early in 2018. Mayor Eileen Bulan said they would get up first, get familiar, and then see about going more frequently than annually.