statescoop

Great article on Visual Budget today in statescoop. Thanks, Alex, for helping to get the word out!

statescoop

 

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.

Somerset Visual Budget In The News!

Our View: A new visual budgeting tool for Somerset

The new website launched by the town of Somerset, at somersetvisualbudget.org, allows taxpayers to see exactly how their tax dollars are being spent. It allows residents to plug in the amount of taxes they paid last year and see a basic financial summary and a “high level data story” about where their money is going.

With that information, they can see how much of their own tax dollars went to every department and expense over the course of six years. They can even see revenues during a similar period, as well as trends over those years with dollar and percentage changes. Modern technology like this can help people better understand the way their community budgets and how their tax dollars are being spent.

That, in turn, can help foster smarter policy and budgeting decisions. This is especially important for towns like Somerset that use the old Town Meeting style of government, where residents vote directly on spending matters, but may not really understand what they’re voting on and how it applies to their own household and community.

This innovation represents a great way to increase government transparency and help put taxpayers in the driver’s seat when it comes to understanding a very complicated issue like municipal finance.

– The Herald News, May. 18, 2015

http://www.heraldnews.com/article/20150518/OPINION/150516643

Finding out how your tax dollars are spent

Residents who want to know how their tax money is being spent can get very detailed information, right down to the dollar, and they can do it on their own computer now.

The town has set up a new program on somersetvisualbudget.org. In that program, property owners can punch in how much their tax bills are and then find out how much of their bill goes to each department of expense the town makes, such as schools, police department, snow and ice removal, etc.

“It’s pretty easy to run,” said Town Finance Director Joseph Bolton who had a company set up the program for the town. “It’s got all kinds of flexibility.”

 – South Coast Today, May. 21, 2015

http://www.southcoasttoday.com/article/20150521/SPECIAL/150529978

 

Asheville, NC Budget Explorer

Eric Jackson and volunteers from Code for Asheville and the Asheville Coders League have created the Asheville Budget Explorer, incorporating their own version of Visual Budget. In addition to our visualization, they added others, plus budget explainers and links to the city’s own budget documents. Great job, Asheville peeps!

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Somerset Visual Budget Launched

Watch this great introduction by Selectmen Dave Berube and Finance Director/Town Accountant Joe Bolton on how to use the Somerset Visual Budget page to see how and where your tax dollars are used.


and here’s the live site:

somersetvb

Essex Visual Budget Launched

 

For the Town of Essex, we programmed a special features that allows taxpayers to see the impact on the property taxes of the upcoming decision about leasing of sections of the Town-owned Conomo Point properties. By entering their current tax bill on the home page and clicking a link, they can see how the figures would change if northern Conomo Point is no longer leased in the future. essexspecial

 

Essex Visual Budget

Mansfield Visual Budget Launched!

Mansfield Visual Budget

Mansfield Visual Budget

Cohasset Visual Budget Launched!

Cohasset has the honor of being the First Visual Budget outside of the founding Town of Arlington!

Cohasset Visual Budget

Why a visual tool for your town’s budget?

Government employees and elected officials understand that budgets are the road maps they must follow. Insiders liave and breathe the budget. They wade through 300-page PDFs and toss around terms like “enterprise fund” and “capital outlay” with aplomb But most commmunity residents have little insight into municipal finances. This is why VisGov created the Visual Budget – a tool for deepening the conversation between government and citizens about how taxpayer dollars are being spent and why. It lets citizens understand budget priorities at a glance, see how their own tax dollars are spent, and understand the context for financial decisions, without devoting a week to reading spreadsheets. The Visual Budget gives citizens the information they need to have informed conversations with municipal officials about values and priorities, enriching the experience for all. “Increasing transparency and accessibility to financial information has long been a goal for the Town. We hope this new feature will encourage users to learn more about Town finances and be more engaged in the annual budget discourse.”

Arlington Town Manager
Adam Chapdelaine

 

 

Arlington Visual Budget Wins MMA Innovation Award

ARLINGTON, MA (U.S.) – January 17, 2014 – Online Budget Visualization Tool, Designed by Involution Studios with Town of Arlington, MA Offers Financial Transparency to Taxpayers

Arlington Visual Budget has been selected to receive the Massachusetts Municipal Association Innovation Award at the MMA Annual Meeting on January 25th in Boston.

Sponsored each year by the Massachusetts Municipal Association, the Kenneth E. Pickard Municipal Innovation Award recognizes unique and creative projects and programs that increase the effectiveness of local government. Judged by former municipal officials, consultants, and professors, an innovation must address a problem that is common to municipalities across the Commonwealth in an original, cost-effective, and efficient way. Winning innovations must improve a municipal service, administration, or performance, while adaptability to other communities is also a consideration. This award lets municipalities recognize successfully established innovative programs or projects and to share these new, unique, and effective solutions with other cities and towns.

Last fall, Involution Studios of Arlington, MA, along with the Town of Arlington and Finance Committee members Annie Lacourt and 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.

The initiative exemplifies the nation’s commitment to the international Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global effort to encourage transparent, effective, and accountable governance. President Obama has challenged agencies to “harness new technologies” and “solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public” and emphasizes a “bottom-up” philosophy that taps citizen expertise to make government smarter and more responsive to private sector demands.

AVB provides the next generation of accessibility in financial information that enables citizens to see, engage, and discuss.

The Visual Budget system converts the town’s revenues and expenditures to simple graphics and charts that describe Arlington’s finances. It also provides definitions for complex budgeting terminology, and includes a tool where residents can input their yearly property tax bill and find out exactly how the town spends their tax dollars. Taxpayers can learn about town revenues, expenses, and funds displayed in both graphical and tabular formats. What’s more, the system enables users to provide feedback and ideas, an essential component of empowering citizens with both information and a greater voice in decision-making.

Town Management Analyst Michael Bouton said he was happy to work with Involution’s creative team on the project. “It was a blank canvas,” Bouton said. “We came in with an idea and the conceptualization of it was them.” Involution designers Roger Zhu and Ivan Dilernia donated their time, and the company has made the code for the project available online for other town governments to use. An Arlington resident, Involution’s Creative Director Juhan Sonin was excited about the collaboration, saying “It’s a part of our civic responsibility as designers to get involved in the design of policy.”

Read what the Sunlight Foundation says about how the Arlington Visual Budget will be used in 2014.