County already preparing for 2019 budget process

By John Holler, Correspondent:

The smoke from the 4th of July fireworks has barely cleared, but the Wright County Board of Commissioners is already planning for how they’re going to set their budgets – and the levy paid by property owners. The county is getting the process started earlier than normal this year because it going to roll out a new interactive software intended to give residents a better insight into why the county makes the budgeting decisions its does. County Coordinator Lee Kelly said that the process from the start of the budget hearings this week and the conclusion of the process two months from now is going to be hectic as usual, but even more so this year because of the integration of OpenGov software. “We’re not significantly earlier, but we are earlier this year than we have been in past years,” Kelly said. “We made a conscious decision to start earlier to give staff more time to pull it together, because we’re doing a few things this year that we’ve never done – primary among them using the OpenGov software. We’re looking more at analytics as a tool to help give the commissioners as much information and history as possible. We’re looking at the numbers and are trying figure out what story those numbers are telling and roll it out to the public to answer questions that may have on specific areas. It’s still in its infancy, but we think it can be a valuable tool for us.” The county has been using OpenGov, a pet project of Auditor/ Treasurer Bob Hiivala, for the last two years, but is looking to expand its use this budget season to give residents an opportunity to interact with the county. OpenGov allows the board to visualize annual and monthly changes that take place over time. The process uses past information to project anticipated revenues, such as money brought in from boarding of prisoners at the county jail to anticipating a refund from the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust, which comes every year, but previously wasn’t budgeted for despite being an anticipated source of mid-year revenue. “We’re using OpenGov for a lot of analytics with the different departments, but at times you can get lost in the details,” Hiivala said. “Right now, we’re mainly grouping line items together to see trends and the bigger picture. I think it’s important to use those visuals OpenGov provides to show us how things have gone and the past and what we can realistically expect in the future.” The arrival of four new commissioners in 2013 dramatically changed how the county viewed advancement in technology and how to best apply it to making Wright County more accessible to residents with questions or concerns about how money is being spent.

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