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Comptroller makes city finances an ‘open book’

Got a question about city finances? Something related to payroll or vendor payments perhaps? Or maybe just wondering how much money the city spends or takes in?

City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder just made it easier to get the answers to questions about how Buffalo tax dollars are spent.

Schroeder on Thursday unveiled “Open Book Buffalo,” a portal to a searchable website filled with information on city finances.

The portal can be reached through the comptroller’s website – www.city-buffalo.com/comptroller.

“From the big picture down to the small details, Open Book Buffalo shows how the city is spending money, with whom, and for what,” Schroeder said. “It’s the taxpayers’ money – they deserve to know how it is being spent.”

The portal has information on current and previous year finances for city government. It does not include the Board of Education, Sewer Authority, Housing Authority or Urban Renewal Agency, although Schroeder said he’d like to eventually include some of those agencies in his data or link to their sites if they provide similar information.

The city data Schroeder is making available is searchable, sortable and exportable to a spreadsheet.

“Whether you want to know how much was spent on overtime in a certain department or how much the city spent with a particular law firm, Open Book Buffalo can give you the answer quickly and easily,” he said.

Schroeder said he wanted any financial information subject to the state Freedom of Information Law available on Open Book Buffalo.

“With Open Book Buffalo, you don’t have to file a formal FOIL request and then wait for a response,” he said. “You can get the information you want with a click of a mouse.

“This openness,” Schroeder added, “promotes accountability, efficiency and citizen participation in government.”

The system costs the city about $20,000 annually, Schroeder said.

Earlier in the week, the Common Council voted to spend about $24,000 annually on a computer software program that puts Council proceedings online.

The Council is purchasing a program similar to one currently used in the Town of Amherst that offers online access to agendas, agenda documents, minutes and proceedings.

The system is designed to also add video of proceedings. Council President Darius G. Pridgen has said the digital agendas and related documents will reduce paper and increase government transparency.

email: sschulman@buffnews.com