Lancaster Eagle Gazette: Lancaster increases transparency efforts
Lancaster Eagle Gazette
By Spencer Remoquillo
December 6, 2016
LANCASTER - Three local government agencies, including the city of Lancaster, joined the Ohio Treasurer's Office Ohio Checkbook website meant to increase transparency in government spending across the state on Tuesday.
Expenditures from Lancaster and the villages of Stoutsville and Sugar Grove went live on OhioCheckbook.com, which shows searchable expenditures dating back several years. Lancaster's data shows more than $748 million in spending over the past six years and more than 130,000 individual transactions.
Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel launched the site in December 2014 after realizing the state ranked 46th in the nation in regards to government transparency. Now, Ohio has ranked No. 1 in transparency for the second year in a row, said Kelly Ilagan, a public affairs liason for the state treasurer's office.
Lancaster, Sugar Grove and Stoutsville are joining nearly 1,000 other local governments committed to the system. There are nearly 550 agencies with data available online. There are seven governmental agencies participating in the area, including Fairfield County government.
"The City of Lancaster has always been transparent with taxpayer dollars, but we are excited to use OhioCheckbook.com to make it even easier for our residents to access public information," Lancaster Auditor Tricia Nettles said.
Nettles said she isn't sure how often Lancaster's expenditures will be uploaded to the system, but it will likely be done either monthly or quarterly. The checkbook currently displays expenditures dating from 2011 through mid-September.
Ilagan gave a demonstration of the website Tuesday at the city's municipal building. She said there was some concern the checkbook would increase records requests for public documents, but she said many of the participating governments have experienced a decrease because of its availability online.
The website breaks down expenditures from something as large as how much was spent on public safety in 2014 to how much money the city spent on office supplies for one particular department in a year. The website is searchable by vendor, complete with a check number and amount that was paid to that vendor.
Ilagan said the goal is to get as many of Ohio's 4,000 local governments involved as possible. There also is work to create a phone app for the system and to include government revenue, not just expenditures.
In addition to transparency, Nettles said the checkbook will be an easy way for council members to look at actual expenditures versus what was budgeted.
To view Lancaster's expenditures, go to Lancaster.OhioCheckbook.com.