Beaufort Leads the Way in Financial Transparency for South Carolina

POPULATION: 13,100 | AGENCY TYPE: City | ANNUAL BUDGET: $19 Million

As demands for greater public sector transparency have gained momentum, local leaders have taken note. For instance, at a recent statewide South Carolina conference of mayors, public officials urged municipal leaders to consider new strategies for increasing financial transparency in their towns and cities.

In Beaufort, South Carolina – a picturesque coastal village that is home to 13,000 residents – Mayor Billy Keyserling and Finance Director Kathy Todd agreed they not only wanted to make revenue and spending data more transparent, but also aimed to provide residents with a comprehensive picture of the City’s financial data. They wanted to facilitate greater understanding as well.

“Sometimes transparency efforts can create more questions and gaps in understanding,” Todd explained. “It’s important to provide the big picture before going down into the weeds. Showing continuity in the data is important.”


Flexible Reporting Improves Internal Budgeting Process


Keyserling discovered the OpenGov Smart Government Cloud™ at an industry conference. After viewing a product demo, he and Todd agreed it was the right solution for delivering greater transparency and improved reporting. “We liked the fact that it could be useful to internal staff and Council, including viewing various reports and sharing them with other parties,” Todd explained. “I have an extremely small team, so I was happy to find an easy-to-use, low investment technology to increase transparency and efficiency in the budgeting process.”

Using OpenGov’s software, Beaufort’s Finance Director saves over 90 hours annually compiling quarterly reports.

Todd sent her chart of accounts to OpenGov’s Customer Success team, which built Beaufort’s portal so that its structure would align with the City’s comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR). “Many transparency platforms map to department and object codes, but I wanted to do it a little differently,” Todd said. “The OpenGov platform was flexible enough to allow me to structure the data so that it tied to our CAFR.”


OpenGov Reporting Saved Time and Increased Productivity


OpenGov dramatically increased Todd’s productivity around reporting responsibilities. “Before, I would have to create a separate quarterly report for Council that required downloading the data from my accounting system into Excel. Now that I can export the data from my accounting system and feed it directly into OpenGov, it saves me three to four days of work creating the report each quarter.”

Beaufort’s team chose to structure their open data portal to reflect its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).

Furthermore, Todd said the software’s visualization improved communication when reporting information. “I love having the ability to turn the data into various types of graphs,” she said. “When you answer a question with charts and graphs, it’s often more clear and means more than it would otherwise.”


Strengthened Trust in Government


Todd, with direction from the City Manager and support of City Council, rolled out the OpenGov platform. It became the first city in South Carolina to provide in-depth, comprehensive financial data (spanning five budget years) to the public through its open data portal.

“To us, our budget isn’t terribly complicated, but if you aren’t familiar with our process it can be confusing. This new tool will help everyone better understand where the City of Beaufort spends its money, how recent years compare, and how department budgets change over time,” Mayor Keyserling said.

The reception by City Council and constituents was extremely positive. “Council Members are having a ball and are using it to help themselves understand our revenues and expenses.” said Todd. “They’ve also reported positive feedback from constituents with whom they meet regularly.”

OpenGov’s visualizations and ability to quickly drill down into finances makes it easy to understand Beaufort’s financials.

Results

  • Saved time.

    Using OpenGov, Beaufort’s Finance Director saves over 90 hours each year creating quarterly reports for Council.

  • Cost-effective open data.

    OpenGov’s “easy-to-use, low investment technology” opened Beaufort’s finances internally and externally.

  • Strengthened trust.

    Increasing public access to the City’s finances helped Beaufort’s management team and Council strengthen trust in government.

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