Randall County: Implementing Transparency at No Significant Cost
Randall County was one of the first counties to post its budgets and financial reports online, and now the County has 7 years of Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) and 5 years of Annual Budgets online. The Budget includes user-friendly color pie charts reflecting county revenues and expenses by department and function. The monthly fund balance report and year to date comparison reports are also available online so taxpayers can compare actual monthly expenditures to the budgeted amounts.
Randall County Auditor Karon Kantor visited the Texas Transparency Check-Up page on the Comptroller's Web site and saw the “How-To Checklist.” She and the county judge agreed to put the Randall County check register online, starting with the current fiscal year. Twice each month, as soon as the commissioners' court approves the current payments, one of her staff reviews the check register and prepares it for posting online. Payroll check registers will be added soon.
Kantor stated, “Implementing transparency was easy.” Randall County accomplished this in-house; auditor staff converts documents into PDF files and sends them to the IT department for posting on the Web site. The county was already posting monthly utility bills online.
“Adding the check register didn't cost anything, just an hour or two of staff time,” Kantor said. It is usually posted within 24 hours of approval, under a prominent link labeled “Financial Transparency.”
Kantor said she read an article in the March/April 2009 issue of County Magazine, “The Price of Online Convenience,” concerning the pros and cons of transparency, and was surprised by the high estimated costs of transparency. She reported that Randall County did not incur any significant costs to achieve the best practices recommended by the Comptroller. The only significant costs she could see would be for a possible new requirement that financial information be posted in a “searchable database.” The article listed cost estimates of as much as $500,000 for some local governments. Kantor said she checked with one of their vendors on the possible cost of building a searchable database for Randall County and received an estimate of about $10,000.
Kantor reports that Randall County recently issued certificates of obligation. When people call with questions, they can be referred to the detailed financial data posted on the Web site. She thinks transparency might save some minor costs of printing documents, but the key benefit is that it's the right thing to do and helps build a relationship of trust with the taxpayers.
The Randall County Web site may be viewed at: www.randallcounty.org/auditor/audittransparency.html.