Montgomery County opens books for online searches

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Montgomery County puts expenditures online

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Nearly 800 schools and local governments have now signed up to the open checkbook program.

Montgomery County on Wednesday became the largest local government in Ohio to put how it spends its money into an online searchable database.

Getting $7.8 billion in expenditures from 2010 through 2015 online — more than 1.3 million transactions — took more than a year, but Montgomery County Auditor Karl Keith said it’s worth the effort.

“We live in a time when people are looking for more accountability in government and the technology is there,” Keith said. “I believe the people of Montgomery County have a right to know how their tax money is being spent.”

The effort was orchestrated and paid for by the Ohio Treasurer’s Office initiative that has now put the state’s checkbook and those of 773 counties, cities, schools and other governments online.

This includes the village of Farmersville, which also put its checkbook online this week.

“This initiative will empower our residents to make our government more open and accountable,” village Fiscal Officer Amy Schenck said in a statement.

Mandel said the tool has been searched more than 600,000 times since December 2015.

“OhioCheckbook online is one of those transparency issues where politicians hate it but taxpayers love it,” he said, “and because of that, I”m going to keep doing it.”

Mandel’s office spent $813,979 setting up the system last year and putting the state’s checkbook online, plus a one-time $975,000 licensing fee to allow the system to add local governments. The state expects to spend up to $975,000 a year adding more governments and maintaining the system.

Mandel, a Republican, announced the Montgomery County website launch alongside Keith, a Democrat, and Ohio House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn of Dayton, another Democrat.

“Transparency is a very big part of the public’s confidence in what we do,” said Strahorn. “Tax dollars represent a lot of hard work of thousands and thousands of people every day and we want to convey to people that, as your state government, we’re not taking advantage of that.”

Strahorn and Mandel both support a bill that would require future state treasurers to maintain a searchable online checkbook. The measure passed the House unanimously and is currently pending in the Senate Finance Committee.

“This issue of empowering taxpayers to hold politicians accountable, it’s blind to politics,” Mandel said of the effort’s bipartisan support.

The largest expenditures in the Montgomery County database are checks written to local governments dispersing property taxes collected by the county, totaling $633.4 million last year.

Users can also search by vendor. County expenditures to the Dayton Dragons for example have dropped from more than $100,000 in 2010 — largely for Environmental Services adverisements — to a little more than $3,000 in 2015.

Or users can search by other criteria, such as expenditure type. Nine county departments paid for uniform services in 2015, ranging from $126,205 for the sheriff’s office to $1,157 for the prosecutor’s office.

Huber Heights, Kettering, Dayton Public Schools, Brookville and several area townships also put their checkbooks online recently. Those committed to doing so include Huber Heights schools and the cities of Union and West Carrollton.