West Virginia County Follows the State’s Lead with Transparency Initiative

The Raleigh County Commission has approved the creation of an open checkbook portal to give residents a glimpse at how their tax dollars are being spent.

by Jessica Farrish, The Register-Herald / July 18, 2018

(TNS) — Raleigh County Commission voted Tuesday to establish a website that will allow residents to view, in real time, where their tax dollars are being spent.

Commission President Byrd White III and Commissioner Linda Epling voted to follow the lead of state lawmakers and become more transparent with tax dollars, after a presentation by State Auditor J.B. McClusky at the regular commission meeting.

County adminstrator Jeff Raines will be working with the State Auditor's Office to establish raleighcountycheckbook.gov, a site that will show where each cent is spent in the county.

The goal is to reduce the filter between constituents and county government.

The state version of the website, wvCheckbook.gov, was developed by West Virginia billionaire John Chambers, the founder of Cisco, to track state spending, McCluskey told the Commission.

McCluskey said his goal in working with Chambers was to show that West Virginia is a progressive state and to lower the cost of doing audits by 25 to 30 percent, for those counties that are enrolled in the website program.

"This isn't 1975," he said. "This isn't the world where politicians get what they want, take what they want," he said.

"West Virginia is in the 21st century. We have a government that is transparent and modern and non-corrupt."

"I thought, if we could show in real time how our tax dollars are being spent, that can go a long way in alleviating people's fears [about doing business in the state]," McCluskey said.

The website will save the state money by allowing auditors to work from home in many cases.

A state investigation into spending by the West Virginia Supreme Court recently led to indictments against Justice Allen Loughry for fraud.

The state-operated transparency website shows state spending in a checkbook-style format. Spending from every department is recorded in detail within two days of being uploaded to the site. All state residents and legislators have access to the data, and McCluskey is hopeful the website will curb frivolous spending in the state and also reduce bids for state contracts.

"It shows what is spent on the copy machine, travel, who is winning road bond bids, who gets paid for asphalt," McCluskey reported. "So if you're a business in West Virginia, and you want to figure out who's winning all the bids, you can figure that out, too.

"It makes people think twice before then spend, because it's going to be on the internet," said McCluskey. "It is going to offer a window into the bidding process. If they want to bid on something, they need to know what they want to get under."

The website was given a top rating for transparency by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and Frontier Group in the report "Following the Money 2018: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data."

The state has bought 55 websites for each county. McCluskey told the Commission that the state is open to accepting payment of $3,000 for the first year and $1,800 in subsequent years, but the websites will be provided free to counties that can't fit the fees into the annual budget, he added.

When McCluskey said that even the State Finance Committee was once at the mercy of those providing information on finances, the new system will give them access to all expenditures in the state budget and help in allocation of funding.

He said the county systems will allow county employees to see where the money is being spent, too.

"A lot of the time, you're correct," replied Raines, the county administrator. "You feel like the Monopoly guy with your pockets out."

"This will show where everything is going, and make the reporting and the budget process go much smoother."

©2018 The Register-Herald (Beckley, W.Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.