Ashland has implemented an open data portal that allows the public to access the city’s budget through interactive charts in an effort to increase transparency after its chaotic 2017 budget season.
The tool, operated by a Silicon Valley tech company called OpenGov, is available at ashlandor.opengov.com. The data reflects the city’s current budget that the financial department works on and is updated daily, according to the company’s representative.
Ashland Finance Director Mark Welch recently highlighted the tool at a March council meeting. An OpenGov representative also gave a presentation, demonstrating how the cloud-based tool could navigate through the 345 pages of the city’s biennium budget in just a couple of clicks.
The website allows users to look at “expense,” “revenue” or “expense versus revenue” of each department over the course of 10 years. Users can also choose to look at the budget as a whole or find a specific line item in a department.
The tool was received positively at the meeting by both the City Council and Ashland residents in the audience.
Budget committee citizen members said they believe the portal is a positive step toward making the budget process more transparent.
“I’m a supporter of (Welch) going for this tool,” member Shaun Moran said. “It is a push for more transparency.”
Member Garrett Furuichi echoed his sentiment, but added that the tool should be a first step of many.
“It’s better than nothing. … It’s informative and helpful to understand some aspects of the budget,” he said. “But don’t say OpenGov is the answer for everything, because it’s not.”
He pointed out the data lacks an option to demonstrate funding balance, which “could show some indication of trends in the budget.”
“The data is not as thorough as possible,” he said.
The website itself is also a learning curve, Moran said.
“It takes a bit of time to navigate through it,” he said, adding that some information — such as capital improvement projects — is not specific enough. That data can be found in the traditional budget book, which is available on the city’s website.
Furuichi suggested the city could work to improve the tool, ensuring the data is thorough and meaningful in order for citizens to understand the city budget.
The website is available at https://ashlandor.opengov.com.
— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.