Portal up and running

Prince George County’s OpenGov Portal went live Thursday, allowing citizens access to the county’s expenditures by category.

The portal provides downloadable spreadsheets and visual insights on the county’s spending, going back three fiscal years. This is an effort on behalf of Prince George County to maintain transparency in government.

“We rolled it out last week internally so we could generate feedback,” said Prince George director of budget and finance, Betsy Drewry. “It was launched pretty close to our target date of July 1.”
The portal will be continually updated, but the trend will be a bit of lag due to resolution of transactions. Right now, citizens can see everything from May 2016 going back three fiscal years to fiscal year 2013-2014.

The portal can be found at http://www.princegeorgeva.org under a tab on the right titiled “OpenGov Financial Transparency Portal.” There, users will find everything they need to become acclimated with the service.

“It actually will allow you to go to some very brief written guide, and then take you to a more specific and detailed guide with pictures,” Drewry said. “It will walk you through in general terms how to use it, but the best way to learn is to get on there and play around.”

If users have any questions, they can email them to PGOpenGov@princegeorgecountyva.gov. The idea is to allow citizens as close to unfettered access to the county’s books as possible. Some information is redacted in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, such as specific names or secured locations.

“You can contact us whether you have financial questions or technical support type issues using the portal itself,” Drewry said. “We also have some feature reports that we thought citizens, or members of the press or public might be interested in. A couple of them are who are our top ten vendors? How much does the county spend on all services?”

Prince George holds an A+ rating from the Sunshine Review, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to government transparency. This distinction was held prior to the inception and development of the OpenGov Portal. An effort like this will help maintain the county’s A+ rated transparency and reputation of open government.

Jami Engel, accounting supervisor, headed the project in addition to her traditional roles with the county. This project was something extra for Engel, who said she had the idea of implementing the portal in Prince George after attending a conference highlighting other locales efforts.

Engel has been working on the portal since the board of supervisors gave the project their blessing October 13, 2015, but this project was in development well before the board approved it. Lori Robertson, a financial reporting accountant, joined Engel in meetings with various county department heads to discuss confidentiality requirements.

“Social Services, Fire and EMS, the Police Department, all gave their input before we started building transactions,” Engel said. “Fire and EMS didn’t want any volunteer information, any employee information, out there because they go to certain training that we would never have knowledge about. They wanted all of their people out no matter what.”

Social Services presented another confidentially concern, specifically, citizens receiving benefits and their right to privacy. Engel and Robertson ironed these issues and are now proud to present the finished product.

Prince George County does audit their books yearly. Robbins Farmer Cox is the firm currently providing audit services, and they are in the second year of their audit cycle with the county. The county puts out an RFP for audit services every three to five years.

The portal is of no consequence to audit services, as they have full access to all of the county books. The portal is focused on spending or expenditures, so generated revenue is not.

Featured Photo: Benjamin May/Prince George Journal
Jami Engel, Prince George County accounting supervisor, and Betsy Drewry, Prince George County director of budget and finance are pleased with the new web portal for Prince George government.

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