Have you ever wondered about the details of your town’s budget, or important statistics like crime rates and property taxes, but couldn’t easily track it down? Surprisingly, all 566 of New Jersey’s municipalities still file their budgets on paper with the state’s Department of Community Affairs, so none of the budget data is available online – until now, that is.
Funded by the Dodge Foundation and the Fund for New Jersey, the Independent Center just unveiled a beta version of TownStats.org which allows New Jersey citizens and municipal officials to compare a wide range of budget data as well as other important statistics for up to three New Jersey towns in order to research ways to regionalize, share services or find cost savings in the face of the new budget cap and a long-term decline in state aid.
TownStats.org currently features demographic, property tax, ratable, state aid and crime data for all 566 municipalities, and municipal budgets for 54 municipalities, including the 13 largest and at least three from each county. Approximately 30 new budgets are being added each week, with the hope that all municipalities will be online by this summer. Eventually, TownStats.org would like to include school budget data and county budget data as well.
“It’s important for citizens and public officials in New Jersey to have available, easily accessible, unbiased, non-partisan data and analysis on the critical problems facing our state,” said Dodge President and CEO Chris Daggett. “Such transparency is the bedrock of democracy.”
Co-founder of the Independent Center Mark Magyar noted that categories on TownStats.org correspond closely to the state Department of Community Affairs’ own budget categorization and numbering system, but he is urging the state to require municipalities to electronically file their budgets in a consistent, agreed upon format for easy access and comparison.
How does your community compare to its neighbors? Take a look.
Read more about the roll out of TownStats.org in the Star-Ledger and NJ Spotlight, and here are survey results from Pew Internet (a project of the Pew Research Center) highlighting how people feel better about their communities when their local governments are forthcoming and transparent.
Do you think this is a useful tool for municipalities and citizens? How should it be used? Please leave us a comment below.