Dobson shies away from transparency tool

By Andy Winemiller - [email protected]

DOBSON — Town commissioners will wait on some guidance before entering into a contract to provide financial transparency statements online.

A requirement counties and municipalities place their financial statements on the internet was placed in the current year’s state budget bill. However, the verbiage is vague, according to Josh Smith, Dobson town manager.

“I guess it depends on what the legislature decides,” said Smith, as he told the Dobson Board of Commissioners the legislation fails to explain how in-depth online financial reporting must be.

“We don’t know if it needs to be at checkbook-level yet.”

At Thursday’s town board meeting Smith presented a contract with Open Gov to provide the service. Online users would be able to view all transactions using Open Gov’s tool, which automatically would link to the town’s accounting programs.

The cost would be about $8,000 to get the service up and running and about $5,000 in usage fees annually thereafter. Smith said the program had other uses as well.

“It would be like having a statistician on staff,” explained Smith.

The program could create graphs, analysis and other tools town staff could use, but for which there isn’t necessarily a need, said Smith.

The town’s current plan to meet the legislature’s requirements involve scanning a financial report and uploading it to the website. The reports include fund balances and amounts expended, but don’t annotate each transaction.

Surry County launched its financial transparency tool early in the year, which includes a full report of every expense paid. The county’s agreement with Tyler Technologies, the company which was already providing the county’s financial software programs, cost taxpayers $9,500.

Pilot Mountain uses Open Gov to fulfill the legislature’s reporting requirement, according to Smith.

While any financial information is always available to residents at town hall, the board opted to wait on more guidance regarding what is needed to fulfill the transparency requirement before entering into any agreements.

“I don’t think we need to jump the gun and spend $8,000 or $9,000 on something we may not need,” said Commissioner Todd Dockery.

Commissioner John Lawson asked when the state will make such “checkbook-level” financial information for its own transactions available to online viewers.

“Why would they want us to do it if they can’t do it?” asked Lawson.

“They (state lawmakers) pass a law, and it costs our taxpayers money,” added Mayor Ricky Draughn.

The contract was tabled until state officials better define what they are looking for in local government financial reporting.

In other business, the board voted unanimously to approve the rezoning of a property to a business at 413 East Atkins St. The property is likely to be used by PQA Healthcare, a mental health provider, according to Smith.

Language was altered in the town’s zoning ordinance, removing a vaguely written “average lot-width” requirement from the law.

The town’s water and sewer customers will also be able to pay bills by way of credit card or electronic check. A contract approved Thursday with Paymentus will allow customers to pay online or in person at town hall.

There will be a $2 fee associated with credit card payments, and a $1 fee associated with electronic checks. All fees will be shouldered by those who opt to use the services, according to Smith. The service will cost the town nothing.

By Andy Winemiller

[email protected]

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

comments powered by Disqus