EATON — Representatives from Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel’s office, attended the Eaton City Council meeting on Monday, Dec. 18, to present Ohio’s Online Checkbook program to council members.
Public Affairs Liaison Marcie Longenecker presented the program, while Senior Public Affairs Liaison Lauren Bowen was also in attendance. The women explained the project hopes to put all of Ohio’s municipalities expenditures online for easier access and transparency for citizens.
“It was our hope to bring to your attention the idea of the city coordinating with the treasurer’s office to digitize some of your public records. Specifically those related to your expenditure items,” Longenecker said. “It was one of those things that we thought it might be nice to come out to a council meeting and answer any of your questions or see what might be best for members of council to become acclimated to this idea.
“We’re coordinating with local governments all across the state to digitize some of their public records, specifically those related to their expenditures and it is aggregating that information and making it available in a searchable database so that you can pull up specific expenditure items.”
She added, in just 20 minutes they could make Eaton’s spending information available on the city website in a searchable database.
In December of 2014 the state made available all of the expenditure items at the state level stretching back to 2008. At that time, they had published expenditure items from all state departments. This was done in a bid for transparency, so all tax payers could see where their dollars were being spent.
In early 2015, the state started reaching out to local governments in hopes of doing the same thing for them. According to Longenecker, the State has engaged well over a quarter of local governments in Ohio. Of that number, 1,400 are townships, and there are well over half of the county seats online, as well as 110 cities all together.
“That makes me ask, what is the downside to this?” Mayor Gary Wagner asked.
“It is just a matter of getting the word out. Honest to goodness, this is very positive. It is very engaging for the citizens. It gives them unprecedented access to know exactly what you are doing with the money they entrust to you,” Longenecker said.
“Which is really positive, because we know you work hard and every time you sit behind this desk you are thinking of what you can do to save the taxpayers money. This tool reflects that effort on your part and makes sure your citizens do not have to lack trust or confidence in their government.”
At this time, this would cost the City of Eaton no excess cost. Longenecker explained that Preble County hopes to be involved with this project, but due to an outdated system they are having issues getting involved – they will join the Ohio Checkbook Project once they have an updated accounting system, according to Longenecker.
“What concerns me is that our experience with the state shows that funding and free things go away,” Councilman Joe Renner said. “We do this and everybody loves it, but then the state’s participation goes away and we are stuck with an extra expense.”
Longenecker expressed she understood his point of view, but explained she could not see the funding go away anytime in the future. Currently, the project is being absorbed by the State Treasurer’s office budget and is a “mainstay.”
The council promised to think over the proposal and to do more research before coming to a decision.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH