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Project encourages financial transparency; county embraces OpenGov site

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Article by: William Dean, The Dominion Post

When J.B. McCuskey took over as the state auditor, there were hundreds of missing audits and no possible way to finish all of the audits he had, he told the 30-some people who came to Monongalia County to learn about OpenGov, a transparency and accounting program.

Now, McCuskey has launched Project Mountaineer to help. It allows municipalities in West Virginia the ability to use OpenGov while the state pays the tab.

“The idea is to unify the accounting systems of all of our municipalities so that we can streamline our audit process and start to identify issues that cities might be having before they turn into catastrophes so we can prevent problems as opposed to explaining disasters,” McCuskey said.

At a state level, OpenGov has already had some officials explaining how money is used, McCuskey said. In the end, transparency makes it easier to figure out how to spend money more efficiently and to figure out the real costs of programs instead of just knowing what those programs spend.

New laws, specifically the education omnibus bill, have increased the reporting burden on counties and Commissioner Sean Sikora said the county, which was the first in the state to use OpenGov, offered to host a forum so McCuskey could spread the word about the program.

McCuskey said he was excited Mon County Commission embraced the concept of transparency and unified government accounting so wholeheartedly — to the point it was willing to invite people to learn about it.

Commission President Tom Bloom said OpenGov is fantastic.

“It makes it much easier to do capital improvement projects but also to show where the funds went,” Bloom said. “So, people usually say, ‘if I’m paying my taxes where’s it going?’ This is the most transparent program you can find.”

Several OpenGov officials, including vice president Tim Melton, were in town for the presentation and to go on a tour of West Ridge and other properties as possible sites for a regional office, Bloom said. The OpenGov employees will also got to experience a West Virginia tailgate on Saturday.

A unified accounting system will save not just the auditor’s office money, but every town, economic development group, volunteer fire department and board of education that uses it.

Despite the benefits, McCuskey will never force anyone to use it.

“Our office really believes that mandates that come from the state upon our local governments don’t work,” McCuskey said. “I would much rather provide a great product that enables them to do their job better and hope they use it. So, if I have 90% of the people using something they love its way better than 100% of the people using something they hate.”

Todd Wilt, operations director for Charles Town, said he was attending the forum to learn about OpenGov and McCuskey’s Project Mountaineer initiative.

“There is interest in our community in transparency,” Wilt said. “Certainly transparency in government is a big thing today. So, I think we’ve got an opportunity at the local level to take it on a lot easier than bigger government.”