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7/10/2017
How New Castle County spends your tax dollars; Weiner has long supported openness and transparency

Just three of 13 council members have opted in thus far. Councilmen John Cartier, George Smiley, and Bob Weiner will all post their spending. Weiner and Cartier were present for the website's unveiling Monday at the Woodlawn Library in Wilmington.

"With Matt at the helm, we're taking a big leap forward. It's a process that has stopped and started in fits during my 21 years [on council]," said Weiner. 

Weiner hopes this is the first step towards getting live, on-demand video of county council committee and general meetings.

"It did not find favor with the majority of the members of county council, but I just think it's an idea whose time came about three or four decades ago, but we'll hopefully revisit it sometime."

How New Castle County spends your tax dollars 


Amy Cherry  WDEL Radio Published Jul 10, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Updated Jul 10, 2017 at 5:41 pm 

Those interested can now see how their hard-earned tax dollars are spent by those elected to office with the introduction of New Castle County's new online Open Checkbook, where all that information will be made public. 

"What we are doing...is taking a step that makes our county governance the most transparent it's ever been in our history, and also among the most transparent, financially, in the country," explained County Executive Matt Meyer.

With just a few simple clicks, users can see how much departments spend and exactly what they’re spending it on; Meyer likened it to a household budget.

"Just as you can go online and see your expenditures that you've made through your bank--you should be able to go online and see how your tax money is being spent," said Meyer. Meyer hopes county residents will use their powerful, newfound knowledge as a tool.

"With power comes a responsibility...so we're giving additional power, additional tools to the residents of our county...but we also hope with that they'll take on the responsibility of trying to fix some of the problems that we're trying to fix," he said. "That is what we can do, what expenditures can we all find, that maybe could be scaled down a little bit without county residents seeing the effect of that."

For now, the checkbook only includes data for Fiscal Year 2016; the county is working to get Fiscal Year 2017 data loaded by the end of September. Information on FY 2018 will be released quarterly by October of 2017. Real-time data presents a challenge due to the current fiscal system.

"Real-time has some limitations--if you see stuff, maybe there's a chargeback, so you're not necessarily getting an accurate picture," Meyer explained.

The checkbook cost $26,000 to create and will incur an annual cost of $16,000 for hosting, maintenance and support, Chief Financial Officer Brian Maxwell said.

Transparency was a hallmark of Meyer's campaign when he beat out incumbent Tom Gordon for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 primary and eventually won the general election.

"As I knocked on doors during the campaign--one thing I heard consistently is that people were disconnected from their local government, they didn't have trust in their local government institutions, their local government leaders, that they were doing something behind closed doors that they didn't have any visibility in."

A similar checkbook was available online through the county's website during the Paul Clark administration. It was pulled during the Gordon administration.

But Meyer's attempts at transparency may have already hit a stumbling block. The checkbook is optional for members of county council, who apparently objected to being told what to do by the executive branch.

"We initially said, 'Let's put everyone on council on board;' there was some pushback. They felt like it's a different branch of government that they should control, and we said if you want to be in you're in, if you don't want your expenses to be put in, you're not in.

When pressed further by WDEL about the pushback Meyer responded: "Who? I'll leave those politics...ask the council people about it."

Just three of 13 council members have opted in thus far. Councilmen John Cartier, George Smiley, and Bob Weiner will all post their spending. Weiner and Cartier were present for the website's unveiling Monday at the Woodlawn Library in Wilmington.

"With Matt at the helm, we're taking a big leap forward. It's a process that has stopped and started in fits during my 21 years [on council]," said Weiner. "I won't say that it's just a Brandywine Hundred thing, but I am proud to say that all of us are for transparency and live in what we always thought was a progressive part of our county."   Weiner hopes this is the first step towards getting live, on-demand video of county council committee and general meetings.

"It did not find favor with the majority of the members of county council, but I just think it's an idea whose time came about three or four decades ago, but we'll hopefully revisit it sometime."

"Financial transparency has always been a very important policy goal for me, as an elected official," said Cartier. "This website that we are promoting the open checkbook is interpretative, sophisticated, you can get in and get very detailed financial information about your county government down to the level of contracts, office accounts, it's going to be there for you to access in a user-friendly fashion to get clarity about our financial status as a county government."

Open government advocates like the Delaware Coalition for Open Government (DELCOG) are pleased with the data the checkbook will provide.

"We'll be able to monitor the activity of our public officials a lot easier with access to this kind of information," said John Flaherty, long time member and former director of DELCOG.

He expected all members of county council to be on-board.

"I expect they'll join in. This kind of a project is a work in progress, it's a foundation to build on, and I think as more of the council becomes aware of it, the project will build it will become a more inclusive type of expenditure analysis."

Amy Cherry is the Assistant News Director and an investigative and general assignment reporter and anchor for WDEL. She joined WDEL's award-winning news team in 2010 from WBZ Newsradio 1030 in Boston and has received national accolades for reporting.

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Latest News:
7/24/2017
  DuPont Country Club sale worries neighbors. News Journal
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  How New Castle County spends your tax dollars; Weiner has long supported openness and transparency
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