Real time transparency has been the goal of State Auditor John B. McCluskey since taking office, and over the course of four months, McCluskey has visited 53 of the state’s 55 county courthouses promoting awareness of a government transparency website titled, wvCheckbook.gov.
During Tuesday’s county commission meeting, McCluskey’s presentation of the website demonstrated how citizens can access the same financial records as government officials in Charleston.
“West Virginia believes transparency leads to more effective and accountable government, and a more informed and engaged community,” reads the website’s welcome banner. “We invite you to explore the state’s financial data, including how the state generates revenue, and how it spends it.”
“I wanted to make West Virginia the most transparent state in the United States,” McCluskey said. “Eight months after we started, we were ranked the most transparent state in the U.S.”
“The shoulders of West Virginians should be pulled back and chins held higher because we’ve got a lot to be proud of in being number one in the country,” McCluskey said.
One of the obvious benefits he demonstrated was the lowered cost of the annual county audit, which averages around $25,000. With all the financial date already uploaded, those costs will be cut by 25 to 40 percent. He emphasized the importance of real time data on the website, which provides information much faster and without political filters.
The unified accounting system data is presented in an easy-to-read graphs and pie-charts providing visual data breakdowns and can even go as far in depth as logging individual purchases. As an example, McCluskey said, “The graph of the consumer sales tax is the greatest means of telling how (the State) is doing economically.” Even though, state-wide, the severance tax is less, with the website, officials can now see or figure out where to find other funding sources for projects the coal severance used to cover.
Individual counties still have control over website content, McCluskey said, but the idea is to make financial information available that was previously hidden before the website launch. Personal financial records are not viewable through the website, just company costs. McCluskey said while being transparent is the aim, being transparent in the proper way is also important to the operation.
“This website has the ability to significantly lower your audit costs by using real-time data, the counties are much better at spending taxpayer money than the state is. That is evident from a multitude of factors, but the things that (the county does) are more important to people’s everyday lives than what (the state does),” McCluskey said. “It’s our goal to get as much money back to the county as possible so that you can spend it better than we do,” he said.
Commissioner Woody Hanna said the commission will consider approving acquisition of the software at the next commission meeting. The website service is valued at $250,000, but McCluskey said it is available for county use for $3,000 for the first year, with the rate dropping to $1,800 for each subsequent year.
In other business:
• A resolution designating the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation as the lead economic resource in the county was approved. Andrew Hagy, executive director of GVEDC, detailed an extensive list of the programs now being developed under his direction. “Our number one goal is to expand existing job numbers and to attract more industries and jobs in Greenbrier, Monroe and Pocahontas counties represented by GVEDC,” Hagy said. With a total population of 44,350 in the three counties, at a rate of $1.25 per person, The population-based contributions to GVEDC allow it to procure acreage for development, offer job opportunity and education based apprenticeship programs and to explore solutions for now empty buildings like Magic Mart, American Phone Company and others in the area.
• No action was announced following a 35-minute executive session meeting with attorney Barry Bruce in conference with the commission regarding the nine and a half-year-old “pool litigation” case, formally titled Civil Action Number 13-C-924 in the Circuit Court of Raleigh County. Bruce will continue negotiations with New River Community and Technical College Foundation’s legal counsel.
• A swearing in ceremony for newly elected Commissioner Tammy Shifflett-Tincher will be announced, Hanna said, at the Dec. 11 meeting. The commission met later on Tuesday to canvas the election results.