For students and Ann Arbor residents, city financial data now reads like an online open book.
At a press event before yesterday’s city council meeting, Tom Crawford, the city of Ann Arbor’s chief financial officer, introduced A2OpenBook, an interactive website, www.a2gov.org/a2openbook, that will give users a daily in-depth look at the city’s expenses and revenue sources.
People who access the website can look at expenditures and revenue for any vendor that received city funds. The information can be viewed for different areas including expense type, department or service area, or by a specific budgeted fund such as the city’s water and sewer fund.
Joshua Baron, senior applications specialist for the city, explained that financial data will be automatically uploaded to A2OpenBook every 24 hours from the city’s internal financial database.
“It will give you some insights into our financial status … in ways that have been harder for citizens to see before,” said Crawford, who was formerly the interim city administrator.
The site also has a system of colored indicators that will show whether a specific service area has met, come close to or exceeded its budgeted amount of funds. For example, the city’s Police Services Area has spent 99 percent of the $40,417,657 it was allotted in the city’s 2011 budget, according to the website.
Karen Lancaster, accounting services manager for the city, said the city was looking for a way to combine budget information that has been previously available to citizens with real financial data about the city’s latest revenue gains and expenditures that hasn’t been readily accessible before.
Lancaster added that A2OpenBook should not be confused with extensive, detailed financial reports that the city already provides on request. Rather, it should be thought of as a more user-friendly way to monitor city finances.
“It’s meant to give people an interactive, more high-level look,” Lancaster said.
According to the site, the University has paid the city $327,382 for services related to football games, though the city was listed as budgeted to receive $218,000 from the University in fiscal year 2011.
A2OpenBook also shows that the city has paid the University $372,819.64 in the fiscal year 2011. The majority of the money — more than 89 percent of it — was spent on “land and improvements,” according to the website.
City Council member Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) said she is happy Ann Arbor residents will be able to view city finance information that will be updated every day. Briere also praised the city for being more transparent through A2OpenBook and said it sets a model for other cities.
“Technology is allowing for more transparency, and the city is taking advantage of it,” Briere said. “I think we’ve really come a long way in the almost four years I’ve been on council with getting information out to the public.”
Council discusses public art funds
At yesterday’s city council meeting, Briere expressed concern about the allocation of city funds for public art. She sponsored an ordinance on yesterday’s agenda that would amend the city’s public art laws by specifying where funds for public arts should come from.
The first reading of the ordinance was tabled until after council’s work session regarding public art in November.
Mark Tucker, a lecturer and arts director in the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program, spoke in the public commentary section of the meeting about public art funding. Though he said the living-learning program receives no funding from the city, he expressed concern about the future of public art.
In an interview after the meeting, Tucker said LHSP’s Festifools event— an annual parade in which giant puppets made by students are paraded down Main Street — is the primary way the program is involved in public art in the city.
Tucker said he doesn’t believe Briere’s ordinance will pass and he is concerned that vocal members of the community won’t want taxes to go to public art.
“(Some taxpayers) always feel like, for some reason, they don’t want a penny of their money to go to anything that is called ‘art,’ Tucker said.