Standard & Poors Issues Simi Valley, California AAA Bond Rating After City Adopts OpenGov Platform

POPULATION: 124,237  |  AGENCY TYPE: City  |  ANNUAL BUDGET: $160 Million

The City of Simi Valley, California is a picturesque, affluent, suburban community situated 40 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Home to over 120,000 residents, Simi Valley frequently ranks among the safest and happiest cities in the United States. The city’s administrators are highly respected among the community and among finance officers nationwide for their leadership in financial planning and budget management. The city has won frequent awards from the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) and the California Society of Municipal Finance Officers (CSMFO).


Council Challenged Administration to Improve Budget Transparency


In 2012, the Simi Valley City Council challenged administrators to be more creative about how they presented budget information to the community. In an era of increasing public information requests, the city wanted to be proactive about communicating the budget in an accessible, user-friendly format. According to Assistant City Manager Jim Purtee, “We published tables full of numbers for years, but the council wanted us to find a better way to be more open and proactive with information to spur public participation in government. Our goal was to be transparent in everything we do.”

When Purtee and his team were introduced to OpenGov, he immediately saw its potential for bringing budget data to life through interactive visualizations and charts. The platform’s clear depiction of historical data could establish important context for public dialogue around the city’s budget. Simi Valley later uploaded seven years of budget data to the OpenGov Smart Government Platform, providing the public with on-demand access to current and prior revenue and spending data.

What city leaders didn’t anticipate was the role the city’s financial transparency initiative – including adopting the OpenGov platform – would later play in a bond refinancing.


S&P Issued Simi Valley Historic AAA Bond Rating


In early 2014, city leaders decided to refinance a 2004 revenue bond to take advantage of lower interest rates and reduce borrowing costs. The city engaged S&P to evaluate its creditworthiness. This led to a rigorous evaluation of its financial management practices, budgetary performance, and economic climate. During the evaluation, Purtee and his staff used OpenGov to share budget information with the ratings agency and demonstrate the city’s commitment to budget transparency.

OpenGov gives Simi Valley citizens immediate insight into police expenditures, which they can examine over time or drill down into with ease.

S&P determined that Simi Valley had an “extremely strong” capacity to meet its financial commitments and awarded the city a historic AAA rating. Following the rating, Simi Valley refinanced its outstanding bonds, generating $3.2 million in savings.

“I believe OpenGov was a factor in helping us achieve the historic AAA rating because of our commitment to transparency. One of the things we pointed out to S&P was that we made our budget information open to the public,” Purtee noted. He added, “Only a city with strong financial management would be willing to put everything out there online and allow people to really delve into the numbers. I believe S&P recognized this. That’s where I felt OpenGov played a part in the whole rating discussion and helped us in our overall score.”

“OpenGov played a part in our credit rating discussion and helped us in our overall score.”
Jim Purtee, Assistant City Manager, Simi Valley, CA


Access pension costs in seconds using OpenGov.


Increased Budget Transparency Reduced Public Information Requests


After adopting the OpenGov platform, the city’s staff noticed a decline in public information requests. The staff was also able to respond more quickly to requests that did come in. “We’ve saved hundreds of hours of staff time per year because we are not getting as many questions and inquiries as we did prior to OpenGov, nor do we have to send out as many e-mails explaining the budget,” Purtee said.

“Pretty much anyone can go into OpenGov to access, analyze and compare the city’s budgets.”
Jim Purtee, Assistant City Manager, Simi Valley, CA

That savings in staff time quickly translated into dollars saved for the city. The city estimated is saved at least $10,000 per year by reducing the number of incoming public information requests and enabling staff to respond more efficiently. “It’s a confidence thing now,” Purtee said. “The public knows the financials are out there now and they can check OpenGov anytime. They get it.”


Improved Internal Efficiencies


Simi Valley’s staff also used OpenGov to simplify the process of analyzing, sharing, and applying financial data. Rather than having to leaf through budget books or submitting interdepartmental information requests, the city’s staff gained on-demand access to each department’s budget information and the ability to gain timely insights

According to Purtee, “Pretty much anyone can go in there and delve into what they are looking for in order to access, analyze, and compare the city’s current and prior budgets. I’d know if that wasn’t happening because I would be getting calls.”

See tax revenues over time on an interactive visualization inform decisions.

Summary

  • Simi Valley, California used the OpenGov platform to demonstrate budget transparency and strong financial management to Standard & Poors, helping the city earn an AAA rating.
  • City administrators provided accessible, engaging budget information to the public.
  • Increased budget transparency reduced public information requests, saving the city an estimated $10,000 per year.
  • OpenGov increased staff productivity by removing internal barriers to information sharing.

Results

  • Achieved AAA Bond Rating. 

    Simi Valley successfully used the OpenGov platform to demonstrate budget transparency and strong financial management to Standard & Poors, helping the city earn a historic AAA rating.

  • Reduced Information Request Costs.

    Increased budget transparency reduced public information requests, saving the city an estimated $10,000 per year.

  • Increased Productivity. 

    OpenGov increased staff productivity by removing internal barriers to information sharing.

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