Baltimore County publishes open budget tool in transparency push

Baltimore County officials on Monday published an interactive budget platform online, where anyone can view information about the county’s budget.

In an emailed statement, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said, “The open budget platform provides an unprecedented level of transparency to Baltimore County’s budget process.”

The online tool allows users to search for specific programs, services or departments, and is also broken down between the adopted revenue budget, the adopted operating budget and the adopted capital budget.

Baltimore County has an operating budget of over $3.7 billion and a capital budget of more than $920 million. The tool allows users to look at the current budget to see how funds are allocated by department. For example, a user can click on the operating budget, and see that over $2 billion, the largest piece of the pie, goes toward education.

Then clicking on education, a user can see most of the money is going toward Baltimore County Public Schools, with just over $261 million going to the Community College of Baltimore County.

And, clicking on Baltimore County Public Schools, a user can see some of the biggest expenses are instructional salaries and wages, fixed contractual services, special education and mid-level administration.

Officials described the current platform as a “first phase.” By the fall, the platform will be updated to include previous adopted budgets, and will have the ability to track actual spending compared to total appropriated funding.

But, said Dori Henry, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County, there are some departments the platform will not be able to track — including education.

“We won’t have actual spending data for some systems,” Henry said, because they’re operated separately from the main county government operations. She said it was possible there would be a way to wrap the school system’s spending data into the platform, but was not aware of any conversations regarding that possibility yet.

The county is also working to develop an open data portal, which will include a variety of county data. Henry said one of the most-requested datasets, and what would likely be the first dataset published, would be crime statistics for the county.

“We’ll be looking at what data sets there are that are most commonly requested … and hoping to make them as accessible as possible,” Henry said.

She said another “hot topic” that could be featured in the portal would be Animal Services incidents.

Henry said the same vendor that developed the open budget platform is working on the data portal.

Neither the open budget platform or the yet-to-come data portal represent the Olszewski administration’s first foray into data visualization and open government practices.

In April, before the county voted on a budget, the administration published an online “Balancing Act” that allowed visitors to adjust taxes and expenditures to overcome the county’s budget deficit.

cboteler@baltsun.com

twitter.com/codyboteler

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