Collin County - Being Responsible to Taxpayers
Collin County added a page to its Web site in July 2008 labeled “Financial Transparency,” which now includes check registers for its three primary accounts — General, Direct Deposit and Healthcare (broken down by department description and line item account). It also includes utility costs for the past year, trend analysis for the past five years, and a Citizen’s Report that recasts the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) into a more readable summary of county operations. In addition, there are links to the past four annual reports, past and current budgets, and other financial reports and policies.
The project was suggested by County Judge Keith Self, after seeing the State Comptroller’s Web site. County Auditor Donald W. Cozad is responsible for the project, which was accomplished in-house at no additional cost. Randall Rice, First Assistant Auditor, maintains the link to the Web site. Rice uses Cognos, IBM software for forecasting, budgeting, and reporting to search existing data in the county financial system by bank codes. Rice created macros to reformat data and edit confidential items that should not be made public, including the names of children and parents involved in child support payments and payroll data. The Web site includes an electronic request form to make it convenient to request additional public information.
Besides placing a prominent link on the existing county Web site, Collin County issued press releases to announce the new page and received positive feedback from the public. When one citizen sent a letter to the editor in the local newspaper with a critique, Rice responded by posting the data in a protected Excel format, enabling citizens to download and analyze it in any way they wished. Future additions include showing new financial trends, listing the salaries of all public officials, posting county auditor policies, and adding monthly and quarterly reports to make them more accessible and more readable.
According to Rice, this best practice has resulted in savings in staff time due to fewer phone inquiries and open record requests. He also sees two more important positives: (1) improved public perception that “their government is open and honest,” and (2) “a better internal awareness on the part of county employees that they are public servants and responsible to taxpayers.”