Public access to Morton County's finances will soon be on a whole new level.
Morton County Commissioner Cody Schulz said the county's portal to its financial data via OpenGov is set to go live later this month. OpenGov is a cloud-based software for government entities to publish their checkbook for the public to see. The county began serious discussions in August about publishing its financial data online, Schulz said.
“We wanted to make sure (residents) had access to information on demand when they wanted it without having to travel,” said Schulz, noting that some county residents live 50 miles or more from the Morton County Courthouse in Mandan.
Morton County Auditor Dawn Rhone said the public will be able to view such information as departments' budgets, down to line items and vendor payments, going back about five years.
“I think it’s just a good tool to provide the taxpayers so if they do want to see what we’re spending our money on, it’s all right there at their fingertips rather than someone who wants to know is not very likely to come in here and dig through paper, but if they can do it sitting at home and look through there, it’s just a better way to be transparent,” she said.
Product manager Jason Carian gave a recent presentation about OpenGov to the interim legislative Judiciary Committee, highlighting the software’s ease and accessibility for the public.
“We’ve seen folks have a 30 percent or more reduction in their inbound public records requests, so when they partner with us, once the information is out there, they see less folks asking for information because they can access it online, from their couch, on their iPad, wherever it might be,” he said.
Morton County joins Cass and McKenzie counties and the cities of Fargo and Grand Forks as government entities in North Dakota that have partnered with OpenGov.
The software company has a connection to North Dakota: Former Sen. Byron Dorgan sits on OpenGov's board of advisers.
Dorgan said a member of another board on which he serves introduced him to OpenGov. The software is “very user-friendly” for not just citizens, but also those making decisions in government, he said.
“What OpenGov is developing is new, interesting financial systems to allow greater transparency but also allow decision makers much greater information about how money is spent and how it’s budgeted and so on,” Dorgan said. “I think it’s a significant step up in being able to manage local governments.”
Anyone can track transactions and trends as narrow as spending on tires for police vehicles, rather than asking for records that could take days to compile from systems that are often antiquated, according to Dorgan, adding that data visualization is another plus.
Rhone said Morton County considered other providers for a financial data portal but selected OpenGov due to price. The county paid $6,357 in an initial fee, including setup, and annual maintenance will cost $10,291, she said.
Schulz said there may be a learning curve with the county's OpenGov portal, and the public may submit any comments regarding the software.