By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
CAROLINA BEACH - Carolina Beach Town Manager Michael Cramer announced a new "Financial Transparency Program" during the Town Council's Tuesday July 11th, meeting.
The program is based on a new online portal that allows citizens to view budget information including how property taxes are spent, utility rates, and other fiscal information over a number of years for comparison.
Cramer explained Tuesday morning the cost of the new system is $2,500 to setup the website and then $5,000 per year. He explained, "The service costs $2,500 the first year and $5,000 each year after. Pretty minor compared to a $22,000,000 budget."
The company hired to provide the service is cleargov.com. The company offers the service with the goal of allowing local governments to communicate financial information in an easy to understand format for the public to access.
Cramer explained, "The Town has been working quite hard over the past couple of years to increase the amount of information we provide to the citizens, the general public and Council members. One of the ways that we worked on this past budget cycle was to try and expand how much information we put out regarding the budget. Typically the Council has our Council meetings every second Tuesday. We have the workshops, we have budget workshops... but there isn't always a place that you can go and get ready information and try and dig into the meat and potatoes of the Town's budget, yet it is a significant part of what we do over the course of a fiscal year."
Cramer said the new system can be accessed by visiting the Town's website at www.carolinabeach.org and navigate to the page for "Town Manager". Once on that page you can click on the link to the left titled, "Financial Transparency Center" which will open the new portal and display the data in graphical formats depending on what information you wish to review.
Cramer explained, "In all of our departmental pages you will be able to get to this link."
For example, the new system contains five years of budget data that a citizen can sort to learn how much of their property taxes are spent on police, fire, administration and other services.
At the bottom of each page within the Financial Transparency Center is a box where you can type in questions that will be sent to Cramer via email.
He explained, "What I end up finding is that a lot of people end up having questions about our finances but they don't necessarily ask them. This gives them a venue where they can go and ask specific questions regarding our budget and have it there in a table or graphical format where they can say ok, my question is this, where did this come from or what did you use these funds for. All in an effort of trying to show the citizens more of where the government's money comes from and where it goes to in the services that we provide."
He explained, "There are places where you can get this information outside of dealing with the company. The State of North Carolina does have quite a bit of information that they share online about other communities and comparison data between other municipalities. One of the things I found was it's not really in laymen terms because it's coming out of our financial reports. It's coming from CPA's accounting perspective. I've read these reports for 20 odd years. I still have to read them multiple times to understand what they are really saying. This gives you a much easier, quicker scenario to point and click and try and find some information or ask the questions that you are looking for."