West Chester opening books: Finances now online; crime stats to come

West Chester Twp. residents now have a window into the township’s finances after the online data source OpenGov went live last week.

The township began discussing the transparency tool a year ago, and last September the trustees eschewed joining Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel’s free online checkbook — wanting instead to have a tool that offers a deeper database both for the public and to be used between township departments. The township contracted with OpenGov for a three-year deal costing $152,000.

Kelly Byrd, a management analyst for the township, said the tool has seven years worth of data, including expenses and revenues, annual budgets, checks the township has written, and more. Residents can even create financial reports about what they are interested in on the portal and share it to social media. She said the data will be updated quarterly.

RELATED: Fairfield shares it’s finances online

A second phase of the tool will go live at the end of the year with crime, zoning permit, fire runs and other data.

“You’re going to be able to do some extraordinary things here with respect to things like mapping crime locations and seeing the heat maps and what type of crime,” Trustee Board President Mark Welch said. “This is ultimately going to make West Chester a better community with not only transparency of the dollars but transparency of our way of life.”

Trustee Lee Wong said the township has been working on this project for two years and it was well worth the wait.

“This is a good program. This is what makes our township great — transparency, efficiency,” he said.

Mandel’s checkbook basically allows people to see checks a governmental entity has written but doesn’t allow the interaction the OpenGov platform does. Josh Burton, with Mandel’s office, congratulated the township on their decision to go further.

“You raised your hands and you said you wanted to take your transparency to the next level…,” he said. “West Chester Twp. should be celebrated for your commitment to transparency and ultimately putting the power back into the people’s hands and being able to hold our public officials accountable.”

The OhioCheckbook.com was launched in December 2014, marking the first time in Ohio history when residents could actually see every expenditure in state government. As of October 23 there have been more than 843,000 total searches on the site, according to Mandel’s office.

In Butler County, the county, Hamilton, Fairfield, Middletown, Monroe and Oxford governments as well as Fairfield, Liberty, Oxford and Ross township governments share their financial data with their constituents. Most using Mandel’s free checkbook but a handful of others, like Fairfield and Hamilton, have paid for extra features like West Chester.

West Chester Fiscal Officer Bruce Jones said the basic checkbook program was too “shallow.”

“We determined that was really inadequate, shallow, it did not offer anything unique,” Jones said. “It didn’t help us to realize our potential.”

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