Pekin, Illinois Increases Financial Transparency and Civic Engagement

POPULATION: 34,081  |  AGENCY TYPE: City  |  ANNUAL BUDGET: $72 Million

Beyond Debits and Credits


Government accounting systems are built to process debits and credits, to enable finance directors to reconcile the books on a regular basis, to create a trail for the annual audit, and to allow accounts payable clerks to manage transactions with accuracy and precision. While best-in-class systems may also provide dashboards and other advanced reporting features, they typically do not communicate data in an accessible, intuitive way for both financial and non-financial audiences.


New Data Visualization Tool Unlocks Financial Data


A small town located on the Illinois River halfway between Chicago and St. Louis, Pekin, Illinois is home to 34,000 residents, many of whom are highly engaged in the local budgeting process. Pekin’s Assistant Finance Director, Angie Evans, and Human Resources Director, Sarah Newcomb, sought to provide staff with greater access to information about the city’s finances. They also wanted to improve reports to council members and facilitate greater budget transparency for Pekin’s residents.

When Evans and Newcomb learned their enterprise resource planning (ERP) provider, Springbrook, had partnered with OpenGov, the leader in government performance solutions, they were anxious to learn more. In her initial demonstration of the OpenGov Smart Government Platform, she observed how the solution could help her team communicate budget information more easily to residents and the council. “For people who understand pictures better than words and numbers, it really works well,” Evans explained.


Successful Budget Presentation Increases Engagement


Evans and Newcomb decided to move forward with implementing OpenGov for Pekin with the goal of having the platform ready in time for an upcoming budget presentation in less than two weeks. “We literally got all of our data into OpenGov on a Tuesday and we presented the budget on a Wednesday,” explained Newcomb, who led the presentation. “Angie sent the Chart of Accounts and several reports, and the OpenGov team did all the work. They told us it was up and there it was!”

Break down transactions into itemized views, then compare them to the whole budget and past years for greater context.

The presentation was a resounding success for Evans and Newcomb. “When a council member asked a question about a specific department or budget item, we were able to drill down and show them exactly where the data was. We never had the capability to do that before,” Newcomb explained. “It really brought the budget closer to the people and made it more understandable,” Evans added. “Citizens and council members appreciated the increased transparency. They could see the city’s expenses in context and interact with them. It’s much better than me flipping through papers or a thousand-row spreadsheet to answer a question. The ease of the whole thing is phenomenal.”


Better Reporting in Less Time


With the new platform, Evans anticipates that she will increase the quality and frequency of reports to council and citizens without increasing the time involved in creating them. “We’ve never really put reports of any kind online for citizens to see the day-to-day or month-to-month before. It will be new and different,” explained Evans. “Before, getting information out of our ERP took time; now the information is out there for whomever wants to see it.”

Understand revenue sources to make more informed decisions using OpenGov.

Prior to the budget presentation, Newcomb gave staff a brief preview of OpenGov during a staff meeting. “I sent my iPad around the table and people were really into it. They were looking into their department budgets on their own. That’s what I loved about it – it’s so intuitive and self explanatory,” said Newcomb. “Employees will be able to get in there,run through things, and answer their own questions. That access is unprecedented for our staff and they were anxious to use it.”

“With OpenGov, information is out there for whomever wants to see it.”
Angie Evans, Assistant Finance Director, Pekin, IL

Seamless Integration Empowers Staff


On the question of how well Springbrook integrates with OpenGov, Evans responded, “OpenGov and Springbrook are excellent complements to each other. Members of my team will still use Springbrook, but connecting the data to OpenGov makes information accessible and user-friendly for people on staff who don’t use Springbrook or have a financial background.”

Perhaps most important, Evans and Newcomb anticipate that the new tool will help increase transparency and citizen trust. As Newcomb explained, “The process was helpful for showing people who are somewhat skeptical of what government agencies do on a day-to-day basis how tax dollars are used.”

Easily illustrate Pekin’s personnel costs over time.

Summary

  • Pekin finance leaders searched for a new tool to communicate budget information to the council and the public.
  • After adopting OpenGov, city leaders gave the council and citizens unprecedented access to the city’s financial data.
  • City staff enjoy better access to information and advanced reporting features.
  • Seamless integration with Springbrook accounting solutions saves staff time and boosts efficiency.

Results

  • Strengthening Trust.

    Pekin‘s Assistant Finance Director and Human Resources Director increased financial transparency for the city’s 34,000 residents, strengthening trust among the community.

  • Effective Budget Presentations. 

    After implementing its OpenGov platform in under two weeks, the finance team used the platform to successfully present its budget to the council and public.

  • Data Drill-Downs.

    The city’s staff gained the ability to view the proposed budget for their departments and drill down into specific line items.

  • ERP Data Integration.

    OpenGov’s saved Pekin’s finance team time on reporting by seamlessly integrating with the Springbrook finance and administration suite.

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