Monday, January 25, 2021

New dashboard improves city’s transparency

January 30, 2020
<p>East Lansing City Council meets Sep. 17, 2019 at the 54B District Court.</p>

East Lansing City Council meets Sep. 17, 2019 at the 54B District Court.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

East Lansing took a step towards becoming more transparent with the implementation of its priority-based budgeting, community-facing data dashboard.

“While Priority Based Budgeting doesn’t replace our traditional budgeting process, it provides a new approach to our budget decision making and increases transparency for our residents,” East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas said in a news release.

The shift to priority-based budgeting means the city takes a deeper look at where money is being spent and where money needs to be spent, as opposed to simply using the same budget priorities as the past year, East Lansing City Council Member Lisa Babcock said.

“It comes to us with a lot more information about how the money we’re spending is tied to the goals of the city,” Babcock said.

The website shows how much money is being spent on six priority categories: economy, environmental, infrastructure, recreation, safety and good governance. 

These six categories, once selected on the website, provide definitions that the council uses as their “scoring criteria when evaluating the extent at which the program supports a given priority,” according to the site. 

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Money spent on the economy will focus on developing the downtown area and helping businesses. Additionally, some will be allocated to retaining Michigan State graduates.

The environmental portion of the budget will focus on promoting sustainable energy and educating people on environmental issues.

Funds allocated to infrastructure will help in areas like managing wastewater and storm water, as well as sustaining a visually appealing community.

Recreation money will be spent on things like keeping art prominent in East Lansing and maintaining park trails.

The budget dedicated to safety allows for spending in relation to the police and fire departments. Additionally, the site points out money spent keeping East Lansing safe attracts home buyers.

The final category — good governance — is spent to ensure an active and responsive city staff.

The site also allows users to see how money is spent on different departments, such as parking, library services and public works.

“The Open PBB dashboard is specifically designed to transparently share all of the city’s priority-based budgeting data with citizens and inform our community of the true cost of providing city services,” Lahanas said in the release.

Babcock said that when she worked as a reporter, looking at budgets was complicated because there was so much money being allocated to different places, something the site breaks down clearly.

“This budget, rather than just throwing a bunch of numbers at people, connects the dots and allows people to look at it,” Babcock said.

Babcock was elected to council in November 2019, running on a platform demanding more transparency from the city. 

“Anything we do that puts more information in the hands of more people is better government,” Babcock said. 

Babcock said it’s especially important for East Lansing to be transparent because of the public’s desire to be involved.

“East Lansing is a really special community,” Babcock said. “People want to know (what’s going on), they’re actually curious, people go to meetings.”

Babcock said this is just one step in making the city more transparent, with more to come.

“We have only just begun.”

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