City of Grand Rapids launches Open Budget site for transparency

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The city of Grand Rapids launched an online Open Budget/Data platform to report its progress on its strategic goals and to increase transparency with residents.

The site offers information related to the city’s expense and revenue budgets. Currently, the site contains the city’s operating revenue and expenditure budgets for fiscal years 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. Those wishing to review audited financial statements should refer to the city’s published annual financial reports.

Open Budget presents information in “an intuitive and visual manner,” the city said. Interactive charts and graphs allow users to explore how monies are allocated and spent across funds, departments, units and revenue sources or expense objects. Programs and capital improvement projects are slated to be included later this year. Users also can access and download the raw data that powers the visualizations.

Molly Clarin, CFO for the city of Grand Rapids, said this new technology allows the city to collaborate with the community on programs, work plans and budget submissions. She said it is the first time the city has taken a deliberate approach to report ongoing metrics to the broader community. Key performance indicators previously were reported annually during the budget process.

“This past year, the community really voiced its desire for access to additional budget information beyond what is currently in the city’s fiscal plan,” Clarin said. “We responded by issuing a redesigned Citizen’s Guide to the City’s Finances — an easy-to-read, summarized version of the annual financial report. We also heightened transparency with this easy-to-use site that provides users with information on operating revenues, operating expenses and the detailed expenses of our budget.”

Clarin said Open Budget was configured to show the adopted budget versus the amended budget in a dynamic way using charts and graphs. Visitors can learn about government priorities and impact on their lives and neighborhoods on their desktop, tablet and mobile devices.

Grand Rapids leaders adopted an “open by default” policy in 2016 to remove barriers to public access to information. The platform also helps city leaders hold themselves accountable for achieving outcomes and metrics laid out in the strategic plan.

The city’s Open Budget site is part of the GRData portal, which provides a single point of access to municipal performance data, dashboards and metrics for the public and employees working across the city’s 41 departments.

The next phase of the project will include building the Open Expenditures module, which will allow users to see the city’s expenditures by fund and department. Users will be able to compare the budget to actual spending once this module is completed.

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