A survey of Virginia’s county and independent city websites

January 4, 2013 4:57 PM
How many clicks to get to your budget in Virginia?
 
The Virginia Coalition for Open Government is dedicated to the principle that self-government depends on well-informed citizens.
 
The digital age presents unprecendented opportunities for government to provide citizens access to essential information. This report assesses and grades the performance of Virginia’s 134 counties and independent cities in providing easy online access to local government’s fundamental operating document: its annual budget. 
 
As the performance varies from locality to locality, the county-by-city report card that follows the narrative and explanatory portion of the report includes every grade from A+ to F. However, the localities’ grades don’t vary predictably according to region, size or affluence, and there are lessons here – and opportunities -- for every local government in Virginia.
 
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Why did VCOG choose to search out the budget on each locality’s website? Why, out of all the services a local government provides, did we home in on just one document?
 
It’s simple, really: Without the budget there’s nothing else.
 
Everyone knows what a budget is. Whether it’s your personal finances, a business balance sheet, Congress, a wedding plan, a PTA bake sale, most adults (and hopefully some kids out there!) understand money in and money out. For a local government budget, the money in is from taxpayers’ pockets (federal funds and grants, too, of course), and the money out is the spending of those taxpayer funds.
 
The budget is thus the most literal way government can be held accountable. The budget’s numbers tell us what the government’s priorities are. The numbers by themselves don’t have spin. It is up to citizens to decide if the money is being spent appropriately, in the right amounts and for the things we value.
 
The “How Many Clicks” project was funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the National Freedom of Information Coalition.
 
Visit VCOG for the survey in its entirety.