The city of Reynoldsburg and Reynoldsburg city schools are now members of the state's voluntary OhioCheckbook.com site, joining nearly 800 of the state's 4,000 or so government entities and school districts that have done so.

The city of Reynoldsburg and Reynoldsburg city schools are now members of the state's voluntary OhioCheckbook.com site, joining nearly 800 of the state's 4,000 or so government entities and school districts that have done so.

The site (local.ohiocheckbook.com) publishes comprehensive spending data for local governments, drawing from information that is often digitally formatted for local governments. The data show individual expenditures by date, amount, vendor and program, along with supporting graphics and other information.

City Auditor Richard Harris said Reynoldsburg has for many years worked hard to be transparent; the common site is a logical next step, he said.

"On occasion, we'll have somebody call and ask, 'What did you spend on this? What did you spend on that?' and they do a public records request which we then get for them," Harris said.. "Now they have the ability to go online and find it for themselves, as well."

City Council finance committee Chairman Barth Cotner said the decision to go forward with the site was a reasonably quick one that happened over the summer.

"Most of us (on council) were familiar with the OhioCheckbook.com website and the concept," Cotner said. "As a body and as individuals, we were at least aware of what they were trying to do."

One of the biggest questions was making sure the city could participate without too much cost or burden, he said.

"We were not positive how to make it all flow together, and our city auditor had questions about the workload on his department," Cotner said.

"If we go forward, we need to know how to make it work. We are always cautious about extending ourselves. As a smaller-budget city, we have a small workforce that is loyal, but we don't want to overextend them."

Harris said what made it easy was that the Ohio Treasurer's Office had already developed the necessary software systems to link the data already used by the city with the data required for the website.

"It wasn't difficult because for the financial accounting system that we use, they had already created a bridge or link or what you want to call it, so it was just a matter of our running a report similar to the report we have to run every year for the state audit," Harris said. "It wasn't a long, drawn-out process, which I'm sure is a fear that other cities and counties and other governments have - how expensive is it going to be to get this report? You do have to have that bridge in between (the data management systems)."

Cotner said City Council decided to move forward when staff members were confident they could do so.

"(Harris) spoke privately with them to ask, how do we make this happen?" Cotner said. "Once we got those answers, I think everyone was on board to make sure our community could know what happens with our resources."

Although having easy access to the data is a major achievement, Cotner said the hard question is understanding it and using it. Only about 15 people attended the public announcement of the project, nearly all of them city employees.

"It would be really nice if we could have a mini-tutorial of city government finances," Cotner said. "I've been on council for eight years probably now, finance chair for three years. When I first came in, I spent a lot of time in the office of Mr. Harris, trying to wrap my head around why can't we do this (expenditure), because there's money here (in the accounts).

"But that's not how it works. It took me a long time to understand this," Cotner said. "I'm a small-business owner, I'm a very frugal person; you save and then you buy, and you make things happen.

"In this process, it's different, and it took me a little while -- no, a long while -- and I'm still learning, I still try to make sure when something happens I understand how it does."

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