November 30, 2015
Budgets and Budgeting
The Government Finance Officers Association has consistently promoted best practices to help citizens understand the budget. While much of their work is focused on the budget document itself, the emergence of online budgeting tools offers another great way to engage citizens in the budgeting process.
The most valuable thing about these budget tools is their ability to make the budget interactive. They increase transparency by allowing citizens to easily navigate complex municipal budgets, to view revenues received from the government, and to track outgoing expenditures. The hope is that with this increased accessibility, citizens can provide better input into the budget process and governments can make better program level decisions based on constituent needs. Most online budgeting tools allow governments to track traffic within these budgeting technology portals and further examine community interest.
We have gathered information on some of the most popular online budgeting tools to help you understand what’s out there and decide if one might be a good fit for your jurisdiction.
Balancing Act allows citizens to see how governments are spending money using an easy to read pie chart. Users are then able to break down the budget by category to see how funds are spent. What makes Balancing Act stand out from many other tools is that citizens are able to use a simulation tool to see how increases and decreases to a department or program will affect the overall budget.
Cost: Depends on the size of budget. The basic package ranges from roughly $2,000 to $7,000 annually, with Pro and Custom options available for more. They are currently running a special though and giving discounts to smaller entities that engage in participatory budgeting projects.
Who’s Using It: Hartford, CT and San Antonio, TX
Socrata Open Budget and Open Expenditures are part of Socrata’s Financial Transparency Suite which allows citizens and government staff to view spending and budget data through colorful charts and graphs. In addition, this tool provides flow charts which show funding sources and fund allocations. One interesting fact about this tool is that it also allows governments to make their contracts, payroll, and capital projects viewable to the public. For those interested in further online interactivity, the tool integrates with Socrata’s other products for open data and performance measurement.
Cost: Prices for this tool are based off both population and customization. Costs generally range between $6,500 and $17,000 per year.
Who’s Using It: Redmond, WA, Kelso, WA, and King County, WA
OpenGov allows users to view the proposed budget through interactive reports. Citizens are able to view budget data based on fund, department, expense, revenue, or activity. Additionally, citizens and finance directors alike are able to view transactions within the budget. The "share" feature of this tool enables users to easily share custom graphs or data with others by email or through social media.
Cost: Based on budget size. Pricing can range from $5,000 to $50,000 annually.with the average price for municipalities at around $10,000.
Who’s Using It: Washougal, WA and Thurston County, WA
EZTransparency allows users to view and drill down into municipal budgets. Launched in July 2015, EZTransparency also provides a searchable check register for citizens to view detailed data on how funds are being spent. One standout feature of EZTransparency is its display of aggregate metrics such as the municipal budget per capita, debt per capita, and average city wages.
Cost: The annual fees for EZTransparency depend on government size and range from $8,000 to $25,000 per year.
Who’s Using It: Travis County, TX and DeSoto, TX
While many of these budgeting tools provide similar services, use will depend on the needs of each jurisdiction. However no matter the jurisdiction, budgeting tools assist governments in conquering a common goal, that is, to provide increased transparency. Giving citizens access to data leads to greater transparency which results in increased public awareness. This is a win – win for both the public and local government alike.
If you have experience with these tools or any others, let us know your thoughts in the comments below or by sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.