The financial data for 3,100 counties, cities, towns, villages, schools and fire districts are now easily readable on the Open Book New York Web site, thanks to a continued effort by the state comptroller and his staff to make government more accessible to the public. These efforts should be applauded, and people should use this resource regularly to learn where their tax dollars are spent.
When the state launched Open Book New York (http://www.openbooknewyork.com) in June, it included state agencies’ spending and listed state contracts. This latest addition to the site brings our own local governments into the open.
The Web site, which is updated quarterly, is easy to navigate. Budgets go back to 1996 and include breakdowns in expenditures and revenues for each government or agency. All local governments and school districts are listed on the Web site.
It is simple to track spending and make comparisons — which can be interesting. For instance, according to the Open Book site, the town of North Elba spent nearly $171,000 on economic development in 2006, compared to nearly $25,000 in 1996. Costs for sanitation went down from $1.1 million in 1996 to about $483,000 in 2006. The town of Keene spent $17,318 on community service in 1996 and $165,707 in 2006, while spending on transportation dropped from $1.1 million spent in 2004 to $674,000 in 2006. In 1996 the Lake Placid Central School District spent $16,590 for “debt service.” That number jumped to $1.1 million in 2006.
These years were selected randomly and the categories chosen for their disparity. Each of these funding changes has a story behind it, and although we don’t have time to get into each one here, the raw data gives curious people such as us a starting point for investigating the spending patterns of our local governments.
Although the Web site doesn’t indicate all the particulars in the spending, it does allow taxpayers better access to the financial working of government. It provides more openness in government, which, in turn, helps empower citizens who want to follow their money.
Eventually, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says, the Web site will include debt, tax and demographic data on local governments, as well as data for special-purpose units, industrial development agencies and other units of local government.
We thank all the officials and technology and clerical staff members who made this happen. The Open Book New York Web site is a key component to a democratic society.