By Christine Bryant
Reynoldsburg City Council is considering a proposal that would allow residents to see exactly how the city spends its money by simply visiting a website.
At the June 27 council meeting, Frank Kohstall, deputy director with public affairs for Treasurer of State Josh Mandel’s office, made a presentation to council members about the site, ohiocheckbook.com. Mandel developed the site in 2014 to allow citizens to view detailed expenditures in state government.
The site, which includes multiple search capabilities and the ability to compare state spending among agencies or over the course of more than one year, has since expanded to include local municipalities and school districts that share their finances in an effort to increase transparency.
Gahanna, Hilliard, Columbus, Pataskala, Violet Township and New Albany, are among others that participate.
“Ohio was ranked low when it came to transparency and ohiocheckbook.com bumped Ohio up to first and has maintained its status for two years,” Kohstall said. “Ohiocheckbook.com is offering the same transparency to local government.”
The program, which is free of charge and on a voluntary basis, adapts to the many accounting programs that municipalities use and doesn’t require a large staff usage, he said.
Council President Doug Joseph said he has been thinking about this system after seeing other area communities adopt it. After asking how many cities use the program that are in the 35,000 to 45,000 population range, Kohstall answered there are close to 80 in Ohio, though about 30 to 50 on the smaller size of that range similar in size to Newark, which is considering the program as well.
Any information that is posted is a matter of public record, Kohstall said.
City Auditor Richard Harris expressed concern about whether his department could take on the additional workload of running and sending reports to the state on a regular basis.
“We run all kinds of reports all of the time, especially when it comes to audit time,” he said. “The question is, when he starts doing this ‘we’re going to do this, we’re going to set up tutorials and then you’re going to have to do this,’ we’re sounding like we’re building up staff time, which I don’t have staff time.”
Kohstall said, however, the state can assist and the lion’s share of the time needed to implement the program is the review of the information before it is published. Some municipalities may wish to have all department heads review, for example, he said.
Joseph said the city would take Kohstall’s presentation under advisement.