How is Fairfield spending money? City’s finances now online

12:01 p.m Friday, Sept. 29, 2017 Fairfield & Fairfield Twp
The city of Fairfield is the latest Butler County government to put its finances online.

The city of Fairfield is the latest Butler County government to put its finances online, though it has elected not to use Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel’s free online checkbook.

Fairfield will pay about $22,000 annually to contract with OpenGov.com to collect, organize and share its budget data.

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“This tool will provide those interested in learning more about how our organization operates with a medium to explore that,” Fairfield Assistant City Manager Greg Preece. “As we get more acclimated with the product, I expect more reports to be made available.”

Residents can access the city’s OpenGov account at fairfieldoh.opengov.com.

Mandel contacted nearly 4,000 cities, schools, townships and other governments in 2015, asking them to put their checkbooks online at no cost. More than 800 governmental entities have their fiscal data on Mandel’s OhioCheckbook.com.

In October, West Chester Twp. will be the second Butler County government to not use the treasurer’s program, also opting to contract with OpenGov.com.

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The OpenGov platform is able to “do our performance metric tracking within it,” Preece said, adding that the city “will use it to maintain a database of reports by department.”

The OhioCheckbook.com sites only provides expense reports, but the city is looking at doing more. Preece said the initial focus “has been to get the finance reporting portion of the site up and running.”

“From there, we will begin tracking and publishing reports for other departments,” he said.

In the future, OpenGov.com will allow the city to post 911 response times and zoning information, Preece said.

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West Chester Twp. Trustee President Mark Welch said the township’s portal will launch next month, first with finances, and then the township will roll out qualitative features — such as 911 response times and heat maps for crime in the area.

“We’re going to make the township of West Chester the most open political subdivision that we know of,” said Welch.

Putting a government’s fiscal information on display for anyone to access is important for the well-being of that community, and to improve the lack of trust among people with government, Welch said.

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“It’s critical that West Chester Twp. is 100 percent transparent in everything that we do,” he said. “It’s operationally crucial for governmental bodies to get this information out because there is this undercurrent of suspicion of how government operates … and this will help relieve folks’ fears that the government is spending money unwisely.”

Cedarville University political science professor Mark C. Smith said there’s no reason to not make a government’s spending patterns as readily accessible as possible.

“It is good for government to operate in the open as much as possible,” he said. “However, providing the information does not necessarily mean local citizens will explore it and utilize it. Real accountability would require knowledge and the willingness to act on the information if necessary.”

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