Written by Colin Wood
Los Angeles Comptroller Ron Galperin on Thursday announced the launch of a new data dashboard to track the city’s finances in real time.
The tool, called “Inside LA City Finances, âIncludes tables and graphs visualizing more than 800 municipal funds. Galperin said the data – which he says will be updated daily for all city fund balances, every two weeks for payroll data, and monthly for income and expenses – responds to a demand common vote that the city provides a clear picture of the financial health of the city.
The site is the latest version of Galperin, which since taking office in 2013 has regularly released tools, dashboards and datasets designed to increase government transparency or direct residents to essential services, such as a pantry menu created for Angelenos struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. He told StateScoop that it was his attempt to show people that government is capable of being nimble and innovative. In the emailed responses to the questions, he explained the thinking behind its heavy use of data and technology and what makes the latest financial portal particularly necessary.
Why was this project considered useful?
Understanding something as big and complex as the finances of the country’s second largest city is really difficult. Most often people hear about the city budget, which is only a fraction of the money the city holds and uses to keep it running on a day-to-day basis. I wanted to give people a more complete picture of what is in the city coffers, where it is and allow them to delve into any particular financial aspect that they find interesting. There is something for everyone: fund balances, income and expense breakdown, and pay and overtime totals, plus lots of other interesting data.
I also wanted to be able to view the city’s fund balances in real time. This is essential for a more transparent government and gives residents the information they might need to better hold the city accountable for its spending and decision-making.
Is this something that people often ask?
Almost every community meeting I am invited to speak to comes with a request that I speak about the financial health of the city. This dashboard helps explain that with all the relevant information in one accessible place. I had most of this on my open data portal, which was the first of its kind in the city of Los Angeles, but it had never been organized and designed as a dashboard or interactive tool accessible to anyone who wants to learn more about Los Angeles.
What data points do you find remarkable?
For years, I have been fascinated by the city’s 600 or so special funds. These are funds created by the city or city council to achieve a specific goal, such as maintaining equestrian trails in parks, to build more affordable housing and more. If there is something the city is doing, there is probably a special fund that helps it accomplish. Placing special fund balances next to the city’s main operating fund, the general fund, and providing better financial context for the funds is useful and has never happened before in the city.
I also think it’s useful to track monthly general and reserve fund balances throughout the year which is done on this dashboard. So you can find the daily balances of these funds and track their movement over time.
Why do you publish so many dashboards, maps and tools?
Too often government is labeled as slow and inefficient. This can be true sometimes, but I want to show people that government innovation is not only possible, but necessary to create a better organization and a better society. Innovation and transparency have been at the top of my priority list since I was first elected in 2013. I also believe that these tools can help residents better understand and advocate for the needs of the community. community.
With our Equity index, created last year, we took a deep dive into some of the most pressing factors driving inequality in Los Angeles neighborhoods. Our goal there was to help policymakers create better programs and policies that level the playing field across the city. I’m happy to say that our city’s civil and human rights department used it to analyze the city’s budget this year and now allows them and others to review the proposals. policies from an equity perspective.
And during the pandemic, my office wanted to be as helpful as possible, so we created different maps and other online tools to help educate people about the virus in Los Angeles and connect them to the resources and services they might desperately need. , such as food banks and pantries, sources of financial relief and COVID-19 testing.
What happened to develop this?
My innovation team worked with our financial reporting team to ensure the datasets on our open data portal were all up to date and used Socrata tools to organize and visualize them on the dashboard. It was a collaborative effort and we wanted to make sure it reflected the most relevant and up-to-date information we have on the city’s finances.
It was designed to be updated regularly, with municipal fund balances updated every day of the week and other data sets weekly, bi-monthly and monthly, depending on the data source.
How much work does this keep?
We designed much of it to work with our currently automated financial systems. Of course, my staff create reports which are then uploaded to our open data portal and reflected in the city’s finance dashboard, but we have strived to create a simple tool that will be updated regularly with little input. extra manual work and no room for error.
Beyond the high-level transparency mission, what do you ideally expect?
Right now, I will be using the tool at community meetings to give as many people as possible a âCity Finances 101â tutorial and show them how it can be used to assess LA’s financial well-being. It is also available to council members and city staff when they provide advice and review budget allocations throughout the next fiscal year.
Ultimately, I will continue to create and innovate until my tenure as Controller of LA is over at the end of 2022, but for this tool and others that my team has created, I want it to be. ‘they benefit the city for many years to come. My hope is that people are using it now and that future controllers will keep it up to date and continue to use it to report on city finances in an innovative way. It isn’t and shouldn’t be a boring topic and I think this dashboard proves it.