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Controller Launches Local Government Open Data Website

September 8, 2014
Today the State Controller’s Office announced a new open data website that makes accessible to the public 11 years’ worth of city and county financial report data.
League staff received a preview of the site on Aug. 29, 2014.

The site, https://bythenumbers.sco.ca.gov, enables visitors to compare financial data — all culled from previous editions of the Cities and Counties Annual Reports. In many ways, it complements the open data and related transparency efforts of a growing number of cities across the state.
The site boasts more than 13 million fields of data, according to Jason Montiel, web communications manager, and George Lolas, chief operating officer for the Controller’s Office. Visitors can compare use drop-down menus to compare data in categories like revenues, expenditures, liabilities, assets, fund balances and other categories for up to five local governments at a time. Results are presented in graph or bar chart form and can be exported in Excel and other formats.
Moving the cursor over cities on a state map brings up basic information about cities. A tab called simply “interesting charts” will include some premade charts, like a bar chart showing combined revenue and combined expenditures for all cities. The site also includes a glossary of finance terms.
After the Aug. 29 preview for League staff, the Controller’s Office agreed to make various changes to the site to further our shared commitment to accuracy and transparency, including making it clear on the home page of the website that the data posted has not yet been audited due to the filing requirements of state law.
Among the ideas being mulled to make the tool more useful for cities and the public include possibly adding demographic information for cities, the site’s creators told League staff.
Lolas said data added to the site will go through the same review process as the Cities Annual Report. The Controller’s Office is working to modernize its system in order to ease data transfer by cities, Montiel said.
The Controller’s Office may eventually do away with the hard copy Cities Annual Report, altogether, Lolas said. Eliminating the time spent formatting the annual volumes would likely speed the process of making data publically available, Montiel said.
The site also includes links to the controller’s state worker compensation, PublicPay.ca.gov, and TrackProp30.ca.gov databases, which are already available to the public on the controller’s website.
The Controller’s Office staff said that it hopes to post government employee pension data this fall. Future projects may include special district financial information and additional state information.

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