Getting local budgeting data online gains traction among Ohio legislators

From The Columbus Dispatch After many months of debate, Ohio lawmakers might start moving closer to a world where local-government budgeting data are shared in a useful, transparent way.

Known as the DataOhio Initiative, supporters say it would create a first step toward producing online, searchable financial information from Ohio’s counties, cities and townships that can be used to improve planning, make apples-to-apples comparisons and create a better-informed public.

“I anticipate there will be some growing pains, but it’s the foundation of something Ohio is desperately in need of,” said Greg Lawson, policy analyst with the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, which created a searchable database of public-employee salaries in 2010.

“People need to know what’s being spent, how it’s being spent, and understand how their community compares to other communities. That has been very challenging for people to get.”

Supporters of the four-bill package that a House committee passed last week say that trying to do budgeting comparisons among local governments in Ohio can be an exercise in futility. Although some statistics are available in places such as the state auditor’s website, the information is not reader-friendly, searchable or categorized in the same way.

The DataOhio Initiative seeks to standardize online data reporting and catalog it through a state website that would not house the data but would make it so people do not have to visit 900 sites to find information. The program would be voluntary but would provide $10,000 grants to local governments as an incentive to implement the online reporting system.

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