Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ogden City Line-Item Budget Released to Public

In an effort to promote greater transparency in Ogden City’s finances, the Ogden Ethics Project has obtained and posted a copy of the city’s detailed line-item budget. Interested citizens can now download a copy of this document from http://ogdenethics.org/resources.html.

As far as we can determine, no such document has ever before been released to the public. According to Assistant City Attorney Mara Brown, the line-item budget was not widely disseminated even within the city administration, and was not shared with the city council or its staff.

Ogden’s official budget document is posted on the city’s web site but is far less detailed. To give just one example, whereas the official budget breaks down the city’s golf-course-related expenditures into just ten major categories, the line-item budget breaks these down further into more than 100 sub-categories, with staffing, supplies, utilities, and other expenses assigned to either El Monte or Mt. Ogden Golf Course and further broken down between the grounds and pro shops.

For reasons that remain unclear, the city administration was reluctant to release the line-item budget document. A formal request for it, filed pursuant to the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act, was denied on January 9. The city then rejected repeated attempts to discuss or negotiate the denial. Finally, during a formal appeal hearing before the city’s Records Review Board, the administration agreed to release a copy of the document—but only in printed form, at a total cost of $169 (25 cents per page). The administration refused to provide an electronic copy of the document because, in Brown’s words, “we are able to track it as a record if it’s in print format” and because an electronic copy “can be manipulated.”

In total, obtaining a copy of the line-item budget required about a dozen hours of personal time spent over a period of two months. The printed pages have, of course, now been scanned and processed with optical character recognition software to facilitate searching.

The present version of the line-item budget includes actual revenue and expense information from fiscal years 2011 and 2012, plus budget numbers for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. Soon the Ogden City Council will begin its consideration of the FY 2014 budget. We hope that the council will demand to see line-item detail during that process, and that the administration will provide that detail promptly upon request.