City of Charlottesville Budget Visualization Launch

Lucas Ames, a civic tech activist in Charlottesville, Virginia, has launched Smart Cville, a comprehensive open data portal for Charlottesville. Lucas has incorporated Visual Budget in Smart Cville to present Charlotteville’s budget. This is another good example of how our free, open source software can be incorporated into web sites for municipalities anywhere.
Charlotteville Visual BudgetCville Visual Budget got a nice mention on local TV news: http://www.nbc29.com/story/29673964/new-website-breaks-down-charlottesvilles-budget

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[From http://smartcville.com/city-of-charlottesville-budget-visualization-launch/]

It is with great pleasure that Smart Cville is publishing its Charlottesville Budget Visualization project.  We believe that this project takes valuable, yet complicated, data and makes it easier to comprehend.  There is nothing easy about the budget process and our city does a great job to make the budget process work.  Our visualization utilizes technology to help citizens understand how the city raises and spends money in a simpler, more straightforward manner.  Hopefully the transparency and inclusiveness inherent in this project will encourage more citizens to engage politically.  Transparent and open government has demonstrated the power not only to achieve this goal, but also to engender confidence and trust among citizens toward government.

This deployment of the Budget Visualization takes the actual budget numbers from 2014 and compares them to budgeted numbers for 2015 and 2016.  The site is divided into Revenue, Expenses, and Funds.  Using what’s called “tree maps”, the visualization helps clarify different portions of the budget.  For example, users get a sense of what “Public Safety and Justice” will cost us in 2016 ($36 million) and get a visualization of how that fits to the larger budget.  Users can also delve deeper into the category to view funding for Police, Fire, and other subsections.  The site also allows users to enter their estimated taxes to get a sense of how much or how little city services cost them personally each year.  For Smart Cville, this is only a start to this project.  In the future, we hope to take the budget back to year prior to 2014 and add levels of detail to the budget.  We also hope to continue using open data to demonstrate in small ways the power of civic innovation.

This project would not be possible without some great leaders in Massachusetts.  In the fall of 2013, Involution Studios of Arlington, MA, along with the Town of Arlington, former Town Selectman Annie LaCourt and Finance Committee Vice-Chair Alan Jones, conceptualized a web application that provides an easier way to communicate complex municipal financial information. Involution donated all development services for this project, the first known municipal budget visual representation of its kind.  We’ve adapted this project, offered for free, and moved it south to Virginia where Charlottesville is the first city in the Commonwealth to use this visualization.  While other cities in the Commonwealth have budget visualizations, they are published on sites that carry costs to the taxpayer.  Smart Cville developed this site without cost to the city to demonstrate what data plus civic engagement can contribute to local governments.

For more information about Smart Cville and who we are, please visit our website at http://www.smartcville.com or follow us on Twitter @SmartCville.  If you’d like more information on this project contact Lucas Ames at smartcville@gmail.com.

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