Wondering how much the city spent on road salt this winter? Interested in the expenses for keeping up the city's parks?
That information will soon be at your fingertips.
Stow has decided to become a pioneer in Summit County by becoming the first entity to participate in the state treasurer's Government Transparency Program.
State Treasurer Josh Mandel will be present in Stow at City Hall on June 15 at 9 a.m. to announce the city's partnership and participation in the OhioCheckbook.com program.
The program will allow the general public, including local residents, to have the ability to search and view all of Stow's governmental spending activity. Eventually, this statewide transparency program will enable taxpayers to see not only spending activity of their locality, but also the spending activity of other government entities across the state.
The city's will be based on the treasurer's website at no cost to Stow.
Mandel kicked off his program last year. According to the website, the treasurer's Transparency Project is designed to make government more open and accountable to taxpayers by allowing Ohioans to follow their tax dollars and see how public money is being spent.
"The goal of this project is to shine a light on the true costs of government, so that taxpayers and their elected representatives can make more informed decisions on state spending," Mandel explained.
In addition to Ohio's Online Checkbook, the treasurer's office has also put online a Government Employee Salary Database, Interactive State Property Map, County Investment Reports and the Daily Ledger Report of State Funds.
Users can search the state site by individual or company name or agency for checks issued since fiscal 2008. A "popular searches" feature allows review of spending for travel, food, lottery prizes, sick leave and other areas.
The website, http://ohiotreasurer.gov/transparency/Ohios-Online-Checkbook, cost more than $800,000 and took about a year and a half to develop.
John Baranek, the city's finance director, took the lead on implementing Stow's participation in the program.
According to Baranek, "The State Transparency Program offers an excellent opportunity for our citizens to become more knowledgeable about how their tax dollars are spent each year. I am pleased that the city is able to participate in such a positive program."
Mayor Sara Drew noted that while this program gives residents access to the financial data electronically, "the city has always provided information to the public" on the city's spending.
Other entities may consider the program
Munroe Falls officials considered joining Ohio Checkbook, but decided to wait until they have a better idea of how well it works.
"We're concerned about the logistics of getting our information on their website," Finance Director Carissa Burns said at a City Council finance committee meeting last month.
Burns said she had been told by the treasurer's office that a number of Summit County communities had asked questions about it.
"I think everybody's just seeing what it's about," she said.
Burns also said that she likes the idea of making it easier to be transparent.
"It would be nice if all of our expenditures are out there," she said.
Mayor Frank Larson said the city is already open with information.
"We're very transparent now," he said.
Councilor John Hegnauer said he wanted more information and had particular concerns about the accuracy of city financial information on an outside website.
"I think it's a good idea, but I would like to see what it entails," he said.
Councilor Mike Barnes said he believes that Ohio Checkbook might be more useful to larger municipalities because it would be easier for smaller communities to provide additional information or clarification.
"I think it's better to get a report from the source because then you can ask questions of the source," he said.
The school district's interim treasurer, Dave Osborne, told the Stow Sentry the district hasn't discussed it yet but there would be "no reason to argue with [participation] -- it's public record."
Board of Education president Rod Armstrong confirmed it has not yet been discussed for the school district, saying "I don't have a problem with it. I think it would save us a lot of issues."
Adding he was pleased to hear that the city of Stow was going to be a participant, he said he was definitely interested and would consider bringing it up for discussion at a future Board meeting.