Transparency — Fort Bend County
Fort Bend County, the tenth largest county in Texas, has adopted a positive approach to financial transparency. Currently, the county's Web site contains budgets since 2004, comprehensive annual financial reports (CAFRs) since 2001, and check registers since February 2009. New check register reports are added weekly after the commissioners' court approves expenditures and checks are issued. These documents were placed online by in-house staff without using specialized software. All documents were converted into PDF files, which provide easy access for the public at minimal expense.
Fort Bend County first decided which documents had the most useful information for the public, then determined how to prepare these documents for online posting. The commissioners' court provided input on what they wanted in the disbursement report (check register), including a short description of the payment and year-to-date vendor totals, and these items were incorporated into the report.
Rather than being an added expense, having these documents online has saved the county money by reducing printing costs. Amy Hartman of the county auditor's office stated: “Over the past few years we have found that including more information online makes it more accessible to the community, granting agencies and other interested parties to view without having to send a hard copy of information. We are in the process of including all financial statements online and not just the annual statement.”
According to Pamela Gubbels, director of finance and investments, “I would say that important steps to consider include, but are not limited to:
- involve all the correct people/departments;
- seek approval from the governing body (i.e., commissioners' court);
- ensure all data to be released is subject to open records guidelines (i.e., no personal, protected data is released);
- make sure the reports are easy to locate and easy to understand;
- maintain reports for multiple years/cycles - as much as is practical; and
- keep up with posting current reports as quickly as is feasible.”
The best thing about transparency for the county and stakeholders, Gubbels says, is that “financial transparency allows taxpayers to see how their tax dollars are being used.”
Fort Bend County's Web site is found at: http://www.co.fort-bend.tx.us/getSitePage.asp?sitePage=26459