West Chester spent $152,000 on a government transparency tool. Why it’s not yet fully functional

West Chester Twp. locked in a three-year deal with government transparency portal OpenGov one year ago, and since the technology went live in October, officials are questioning if the phased project is on track.

The first phase put the township’s revenues, expenses and other budget related information on the portal, making it easier for the public to see how their tax dollars are being spent.

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The portal was also designed for residents to track crime statistics and get road construction updates among a host of other information, but those functions aren’t yet available, prompting officials to ask OpenGov and township staff for an update.

“It’s just taking a little longer to clean up that data in a way we can make it available seamlessly and publicly without a lot of human intervention in the middle,” said Barb Wilson, township spokeswoman.

West Chester elected to pay for the OpenGov tool rather than utilize a free service offered by Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, saying the tool offered a deeper database both for the public and among township departments.

Trustees agreed to a three-year, $152,000 contract with OpenGov in March 2017 and the tool launched at the end of October.

Fiscal Officer Bruce Jones said the tool has extraordinary promise, but requested an update from township staff and representatives from OpenGov on the program’s progress.

“The online offering is being created, the purpose of which is to not merely show the public our finances and expenses and such, but to enhance citizen engagement and transparency as well as developing further performance measurements and identify data groups and decision-making opportunities that exist…,” Jones said.

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“As expensive as it is, I think it has such incredible potential to catapult the township with respect to improved efficiencies and transparencies,” he said.

The tool currently has seven years worth of data on township revenues, expenses and other budget items, and people can find checks the township has written and create financial reports. The data is updated quarterly.

Wilson said steps must still be taken so records from departments like police and fire can be properly uploaded to the portal.

Jones has asked for a work session or some kind of a presentation, including representatives from OpenGov. Trustee Mark Welch was supportive of the idea.

“It wouldn’t do us any good to have a gassed up Maserati on the race track and nobody knew how to drive it,” Welch said.

Township Administrator Larry Burks said he would arrange the work session.

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.

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