In the hope of further improving transparency, the village of Mount Sterling is looking into joining the Ohio Checkbook program.
Lauren Bowen, senior public affairs liaison for the state treasurer’s office, spoke to council Monday night about the program’s history and how it could be beneficial.
“We published all of the state’s expenditures across all of the state agencies in December of 2014,” she said, “and this included every last dime of how state agencies spend your tax dollars. So you can understand the amount spent on a pack of pencils at the department of education and to the other extreme, you can understand the multi-million dollar road contract that ODOT buys and contracts with to perpetually repair our roadways in the summer.”
She mentioned the program improved Ohio’s transparency rating, which leaped from 46 to 1.
“At that point we thought, well, why not see if we can’t help local governments achieve the same exact thing alongside of them, and improve the readability and access, aiding the way people decipher public records at the local government level,” she said.
Bowen said it would be easy for the village to get onto the system as the checkbook program goes through the same accounting system, the Uniform Accounting Network or UAN system, which Ohio local governments use.
“Essentially if you are agreeable, I would work closely with Cindy [Miller, former fiscal officer and contractor for the village’s finances] to set it up,” said Bowen. “It would not take very much time at all as UAN runs all of the mechanics and leg work…We’d check a box in the UAN system with having a platform that houses all of your expenditure information.”
She also mentioned the UAN data was also what the auditor’s office reviews during audits so it would help keep those in order as well.
Bowen said other local governments were enthusiastic about it saying it helped people understand how money was spent and helped build trust.
“It’s also very useful as an internal tool, because of the way records are displayed digitally,” she added. “You are able to go in [the digital system], instead of the reports you receive which might be in small print and don’t necessarily have the interactive capability this platform has.”
Miller said that this tool was now available to the village for getting it’s books in order.
She said that before, they could not be audited, and “that’s the key. You have to be auditable and you have to be reconciled,” she said. “We’ve gotten there, but before you couldn’t even think about it.”
Bowen said it was a good time for the village to look into it, saying that it “was moving in the right direction.”
Council members seemed receptive to going forward with it in the near future.
“I think it be a good positive,” said Council member David Timmons. “I think that’s what we need, to be more tangible in what we do.”
President pro-tem of council, Mary Lou Stiverson-Ratliff was concerned with costs.
“There’s absolutely, without a doubt no charge?” she asked.
“Nope, I can promise you that,” said Bowen. “The checkbook level detail is in a platform provided to the village at no cost.”
She said other optional portions, such as revenue could be purchased by the village.
Mayor Lowell Anderson asked if Bowen wanted anything from council that evening. She said the next best step was for her to return in July for a meeting of some kind to give a tutorial on the program.
“I think that sounds, personally, really good,” said Council member Rebecca Burns, the finance chair. “I know we’re under a very intensive audit right now.”
Miller said it had been extended until July 30.
“I know the [the local government services division of the Ohio Auditor of State’s office] report will come out and the special audit team, supposedly will have three reports.”
Burns said she wanted to keep in touch, perhaps meeting in August.
Bowens asked to be in contact with Miller, Burns and Anderson to set up an exact date.
“You can contact me, because you contacted me earlier about doing this and the answer I gave you was the answer I’m giving you today, to come back in July, because we weren’t ready,” said Anderson. “You knew we weren’t ready yet you contacted Rebecca and got on the agenda. So the next time you want to get on the agenda, it’ll be through me. Thank you.”
Other business from Monday’s council meeting:
• Council was split on permitting local restaurant the Thirsty Goat to go forward in its application for liquor license. Timmons voted against it, mentioning before he didn’t approve for drinking but understood it might be of benefit to their business.
• Village Administrator John Martin reported the new water supply plant was coming in well, with the facility almost complete. He said he would be able to offer tours soon, when requested. Due to some issues between some contractors and requirements on running the plant, it is not expected to be fully operational for the village’s water until possibly August or mid-September.
• Martin said there were issues at the sewer plant. Parts were replaced but they are still looking for a new information screen after the old one began to break. He also said that solid waste was building up and he would need to send out more of it soon.
“I’m not sure if the building is capable in keeping up with our solids with the buildup we’ve had. Then we have to decant a little bit,” he said. “It’s a multi-faceted process to get rid of the solids, that’s the way it works.”
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.