Wicomico County Eyes Database To Improve Transparency

SALISBURY – Wicomico County is following in the footsteps of many other local governments seeking greater transparency by approving funds for a new Citizen Transparency database.

A resolution making a supplemental appropriation from Contingency to the Department of Finance in the amount of $17,500 came before the County Council on Tuesday morning to fulfill the desire for heightening transparency.

The resolution states, “The Executive, Council and Citizens of Wicomico County have expressed a desire for greater transparency in government. The Finance Department has been preparing and posting a series of financial reports to the County’s webpage on a periodic basis, which provide interested consumers with a substantial amount of fiscal information in fixed report formats. The County’s accounting software provider, Tyler Technologies has recognized the nationwide demand for greater transparency in local government and has developed a near real-time, cloud based data reporting module that will allow citizens to access MUNIS financial data, graphs and charts directly from the County’s website. The Executive [County Executive Bob Culver] desires to replace the current report oriented financial reporting process with a dynamic, interactive and searchable source of financial information for both citizens, vendors and elected officials.”

According to Tyler Technologies, Citizen Transparency provides unparalleled data access and analysis tools to help public sector entities “implement principles of transparency, participation and collaboration” as set forth by the 2009 Open Government Directive. Local governments are increasingly expected to provide high value information to help citizens understand how their tax dollars are being used, build trust and engage the public in the civic process.

Citizen Transparency organizes MUNIS financial data into graphs and charts to meet the public’s need for real numbers and clarity, and citizens can access the Transparency portal directly from the municipal website.

Citizen Transparency is updated weekly with the most recent numbers so citizens can review total spending to date or see how funds are appropriate by department as well as present revenue statement information and employee earnings.

It will cost $4,500 for initial setup, which the county has already budgeted. The $17,500 is an annual cost for the database to be regularly maintained by Tyler Technologies.

Councilman Joe Holloway found himself trying to justify an annual cost of $17,500 besides the program providing greater transparency.

“This is a strong analytical tool where department heads can see trending having analysis essentially done for them for background. I think it is a powerful tool,” Director of Administration Wayne Strausburg said.

Holloway added it would provide an avenue for bidders to view what the county is currently paying for services and provide the opportunity to place a lower bid.

“The bottom line is we as a council feel that transparency is important, so that will be the best benefit. I don’t know about $17,500 a year but we will see,” Councilman Larry Dodd said.

Councilman John Cannon asked why the item is being introduced now and not at budget time.

Strausburg responded the county is currently receiving a discounted rate from $26,000 to an annual cost of $17,500 that will expire at the end of the year.

“This was discussed with the Charter Review Committee three years ago, so it is something that I have been looking forward to. … This is a great step for transparency,” Councilman Marc Kilmer said.