After waging a two-month records battle, Ogden activist Dan Schroeder recently scored 676 paper pages of line-item budget detail from the city. At $.25 per page, the document set him back $169.
Instead of hoarding the single copy for himself, Schroeder scanned each page into searchable electronic format and loaded the document online for anyone to peruse. The information includes revenue and expenses for fiscal years 2011, 2012 and adopted amounts for 2013. The 2014 budget comes up for discussion in May.
In a recent statement, Schroeder said he posted the budget detail on the Ogden Ethics Project website to promote greater transparency in the city's finances.
The document reveals detail rarely seen by the public, such as golf-course-related expenditures spanning more than 100 subcategories for El Monte and Mt. Ogden Golf Courses.
"As far as we can determine, no such document has ever before been released to the public," Schroeder said. By publishing the material online, Schroeder hopes that people can be better informed and make better decisions.
Councilwoman Amy Wicks said that she and other council members do not receive the line-item budget digitally, adding that citizens shouldn't have to file a request under the Government Records Access and Management Act and pay a lot of money to get the detailed documents that Schroeder received.
Wicks also wondered why that information could not be released electronically.
During his records quest, Schroeder said an assistant city attorney told him that the line-item budget was not widely disseminated in digital format because a paper record is easier to track and electronic copies can be manipulated.
Each May, City Council staff receive the line-item budget data in paper format, said the council's Executive Director Bill Cook. About six weeks of scrutiny, public work sessions and hearings then follow, with the goal of adopting the next year's final budget by June 22.
"We receive the draft line-item budget, then we provide a summarized document to the council," Cook said. "There are thousands and thousands of line items … it's a lot of information to absorb."
That budget summary is provided to the council electronically, Wicks said, and is also available to the public online.
Council members can reference the print-out of the full line-item budget and also can request their own print copies if they wish, Cook said, noting that his office does not have full access to the live budget system used by city administrators due to system safeguards and limitations.
"The process has been that way for many years," Cook said. "From a council perspective, we want everything to be transparent that's our goal."