New software app illuminates government spending

July 10, 2015 (Inside Business – The Hampton Roads Business Journal) By Nate Delesline III email: Nate Delesline III

A new digital service and software product aims to help elected officials and the public more easily visualize and understand complex municipal budgets.

PRA Government Services, a division of Norfolk-based PRA Group, introduced EZTransparency, which allows anyone to view and drill down into municipal budgets. EZTransparency builds its tool based on submitted city budgets and allows users to more easily follow the money.

“The whole idea is really to make it easy to understand what the sources of revenue are and where the money is being spent,” said Steve Roberts, president of PRA Group’s business and government services. “What this is doing is to make it really simple to navigate a budget without being an accountant or financial expert.”

Launched this month, EZTransparency is “absolutely fresh,” and the feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive, Roberts said. The accolades include being featured in the U.S. Conference of Mayors Business Council best practice report. In that short time, more than a half-dozen cities – most of them in Texas – are using the service, and more are signing up each week, the company’s website, eztransparency.com, says.

Although governments might be meeting their public records requirements by posting budgets online, Roberts said many people find it difficult to understand what budget documents, which can easily be 100 pages or more, are attempting to convey.

In a demonstration of the application on the website, one click on the demo budget’s general fund tab under the spending column pops out a breakdown of how the hypothetical city of Transparency, with a budget of $171 million, plans to spend $57.7 million in its public safety, public works, planning and other departments.

EZTransparency also provides a searchable check register, which Roberts said, can minimize open records requests because people can look that information up within the application. The time and effort of city finance and IT staff are not needed to set up the app, as EZTransparency does all the data entry and the service is hosted separately from municipal websites.

In 30 to 45 days, the company can create searchable budget information that can also be downloaded. Pricing for the service is based on the size of the city budget and ranges from $8,000 to $24,000, which averages out to pennies per person, Roberts said.

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