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Founded as a frontier town over 225 years ago, Colerain Township, OH still holds the promise of new beginnings.
The Township began its data transformation several years ago after a small group of citizens demanded a greater level of transparency from the Township and leveled accusations of unethical behavior. Without access to timely and accurate data, Township leaders were trying to show value under a cloud of doubt and a mountain of information.
Data without context is like trying to follow a map without a compass. Colerain’s leadership knew they had to surface data more quickly for internal teams to track and share financial performance. This first step would lead to many more in its digital transformation journey, and provide a map and guide for local governments who are looking for new ways to work.
Colerain knew that picking a good partner is critical to the success of any journey. As the Township’s goals evolved from reactive data sharing to a proactive strategy of ensuring better outcomes, they realized that a single, shared budgeting and planning platform was needed for surfacing accurate data for internal and external reporting.
“We realized that we had all this great data, but it wasn’t available to anyone else except the owner of the Excel worksheet it was contained in,” explains Jeff Weckbach, Assistant Township Administrator. “With these singular ‘data owners’ even the department heads didn’t always know what they had in the budget.” A lack of internal transparency made it difficult to track and measure program effectiveness.
With its adoption of OpenGov Budgeting and Planning, Colerain’s Administrator and Assistant Administrator were able to sit down with department heads and start to connect their data and results for their programs and expenditures and share a holistic view of the finances with the community. The Township shares its strategic plan data publicly to enable anyone to track the status of each initiative by department.
With more than a 60% productivity improvement for budgeting and planning operations with OpenGov, the team shifted time and energy to doing more analysis, and they realized they needed to optimize their communications approaches in tandem. “We had all this data out there, but it hadn’t changed the narrative,” shares Jeff Weckbach, Assistant Township Administrator.
The Township’s leaders adopted a lean strategic communications planning approach. Rather than investing significant time and resources into one mode of communications, the team tried multiple approaches simultaneously to increase community engagement with the Township’s financial impact data.
Three tactics proved successful, and replicable by others following Colerain’s path:
“We’ve gotten good at talking to our community about what we do: we share data about how many potholes are filled, call out success stories like our Main Street Trail, and anticipate and address questions about our fire levy,” explains Assistant Administrator Weckbach.
Thanks to the efforts described above and other strategic transparency initiatives, the Township was able to secure the top possible transparency score by the Ohio State Auditor. The Auditor of State’s website stated that, “this entity received the Highest Achievement in Open and Transparent Government Award.” Of the 7 best practices in transparency and Sunshine Law requirements, only 4 are required to achieve the highest possible. However, Colerain was able to accomplish and meet all 7 best practices.
Colerain Township utilized CARES Act funding to invest in building virtual (online) permitting, licensing, and code enforcement workflows using OpenGov. This move enabled development to continue apace with virtual permitting and inspections. “As a result of the pandemic and virtual workflows, the Township is seeing a ten-year high in new building permits (nearly 400) and they are getting turned around just as fast as in the past,” describes Weckbach.
“OpenGov has helped justify to our Board that working from home makes sense when our teams have the ability to do their work collaboratively and efficiently,” adds Weckbach. Embracing adaptability and modern technology that enables new ways of working is a long-term investment in teams, local government, and the community.
Colerain Township has long-recognized that “technology investments are infrastructure investments,” in the words of Weckbach, but unlike bridges or potholes digital transformation is harder to see. What Colerain’s leadership is doing is showcasing all the great work their teams do using a smart combination of financial and non-financial data and storytelling.
Colerain Township was first settled in the spring of 1790 by a surveyor, John Dunlap, who named the settlement after his birthplace of Coleraine, Ireland. The settlement, Fort Coleraine, commonly called Dunlap’s Station, was located on the bend of the great Miami River several miles below the bridge to Ross, Ohio. Today, Colerain Township is the 2nd largest township in the state of Ohio encompassing 42.9 square miles while serving nearly 60,000 residents. Colerain Township is located north of Cincinnati and is conveniently located off of two major interstates providing easy access to our residential and business communities.
Budgeting and Planning
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