Operating budget tool 2018

A new interactive budget tool paired with the proposed executive 2018 operating budget aims to make city finances more meaningful for residents. 

COURTESY OF THE CITY OF MADISON

In an effort to make Madison’s budget more meaningful, the city announced an interactive data tool Tuesday for residents to get a better idea of how the city is using its money.

Laura Larsen, the city's budget and program evaluation manager, described the data website as a budget transparency tool that allows users to start at the highest level of detail within the operating budget and drill down to individual line items. The operating budget covers ongoing costs for the city while the capital budget outlines major one-time expenses.

“The beauty of this is that all sorts of users have different uses for budget data and what we’re trying to do is to give folks maximum flexibility to look at things in a way that’s relevant and meaningful for them,” Larsen said.

The city partnered with OpenGov, a company that works with governments on budgeting and open data, to develop the interactive website that was announced Tuesday along with Mayor Paul Soglin's proposed $313.9 operating budget for 2018.

Madison’s OpenGov Transparency site shows general fund data from 2016, the adopted budget for 2017 and the executive budget for 2018. The site allows users to filter by expense type, such as salary, and agency. Users can download the data and images.

Additionally, the site includes enterprise funds, which include Utility Funds, Metro Transit, Internal Service Funds, the Housing Authority, Monona Terrace, Room Tax and Public Health. 

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“As we build on to the application, having more and more historical information is going to give us more information to study and to analyze and to understand,” Larsen said. “I think this is a very exciting first step to where we’re going to go.”

Users can refer to this guide on how to navigate the site. 

Larsen said she would like to see future iterations of the tool focus more on services instead of agencies, which could provide more information on what outcomes services are driving and if those are consistent with the city’s priorities.

In conjunction with Soglin’s proposed 2018 capital budget, the city introduced a geospatial budgeting tool that allows residents to see where major projects are or will be occurring.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.