Washington City, Utah Saves Time and Money with OpenGov
POPULATION: 19,000 | AGENCY TYPE: City | ANNUAL BUDGET: $47 Million
POPULATION: 19,000 | AGENCY TYPE: City | ANNUAL BUDGET: $47 Million
Located in the southwestern corner of Utah, Washington City has seen significant population growth in the last decade. These residents, both new and longstanding, enjoy a top-rated PGA golf course, award winning parks, a municipal swimming pool, and other family-friendly community amenities. Washington City’s Vision Statement and associated Values highlight its commitment to being a city recognized as innovative, empowering, and operationally efficient. The City’s staff sought to provide citizens with high-quality services for the best value by leveraging innovative technology to create internal efficiencies while also improving communication with external stakeholders.
As with many municipalities, Washington City relied on analyzing and communicating data through spreadsheets and printed PDF reports. Kimberly Ruesch, the Administrative Services Director who oversees the Finance Division, explained that relying on spreadsheets limited the City’s ability to see the big picture through the numbers and also cost them significant staff time. “For a lot of people, numbers on a piece of paper are just numbers on a piece of paper,” Ruesch said. “It’s really hard unless you’re in the financial world to be able to pick out trends.”
Using OpenGov freed valuable staff time formerly spent exporting data and uploading it into spreadsheets. The staff was also more easily able to spot variances or trends that required action. “With OpenGov, we now have a picture,” Ruesch said. “We are able to quickly analyze data without having to spend tedious time extracting information from the ERP and putting it into spreadsheets. You can get what you need in real time.” This has enabled all staff members – not just those with financial backgrounds – to see trends and respond quickly and appropriately.
“We’ve seen a time savings of 90-percent.”
Kimberly Ruesch, Administrative Services Director, Washington City, UT
“We use OpenGov because I love the story that data can help tell,” Ruesch said. “The data allows you to present financial information that many people would not otherwise be able to understand. OpenGov has allowed us to communicate our financial information to citizens and the Council in a way that is easy to understand and enables their participation in the conversation.”
By using OpenGov, Washington City’s team experienced 90 percent time savings compared to compiling information for PDF reports.
Before implementing OpenGov, Washington City’s staff would spend weeks gathering and consolidating information to prepare the budget for presentation to Council. With OpenGov, Ruesch can complete the presentation in just half a day. “We’ve seen a time savings of 90-percent,” Ruesch said. “Not only that,” she continued, “in the presentation itself we were able to address and answer Council questions on the fly, even when their questions deviated from our presentation topics.”
Before OpenGov’s implementation, Ruesch and her team printed hard copies of monthly status reports, which were static. Furthermore, department staff often did not use them. With OpenGov, “we update our data weekly, rather than once a month, which allows departments to view budget-to-actual information in real time,” Ruesch noted. With current data in hand, department heads started to notice trends in costs such as overtime pay or utilities, as well as seasonal expenses that became useful in preparing future budgets with more accuracy.
“OpenGov allows us to look at our expenditure and revenue information and to drill down into the data to identify trends and engage each department,” Ruesch said. “We use OpenGov in planning to forecast using common averages. Once you get the data grouped the way you want, you can create linear regression models or decompress the data to examine seasonal variations.” Ruesch specifically noted the usefulness of the platform’s graphic visualizations, which allows staff at all levels to pinpoint trends they might not notice otherwise and compare those trends with revenues and expenditures to correct any variances.
This held true for non-financial data as well, including dispatch services and other transactional information. They can compare water consumption seasonally, for instance, which enables the City to maintain appropriate rate structures.
Using the OpenGov Platform has enhanced internal communication and facilitated more appropriate resource allocation. During management meetings that bring together the City Manager, City Treasurer, and others, Ruesch used OpenGov to review real-time financials, explain any anomalies, and justify her recommendations.
Down-the-line communication improved as well. “Staff members may come to us and ask for additional staffing resources,” she said. “With OpenGov, we can sit down and, for example, compare a department’s wages with revenue. In one instance, we noticed a decline in the ratio between payroll expenditures and revenue, which helped us see we did need additional staffing for those departments.”
OpenGov’s visualizations and ability to drill-down into information helps teams communicate plans more effectively to stakeholders, including residents, staff, elected officials, and ratings agencies.
Opening access to such data enabled non-financial staff members to communicate their needs better and make smarter on-the-ground decisions. “With just printed spreadsheets, lay-level employees were locked out of the process,” Ruesch noted. Increased access led the Public Works Division, for example, to notice their wholesale water purchase rate was increasing faster than retail rates, which indicated possible under-billing by the City. Using OpenGov, Public Works staff determined they needed to conduct their own rate analysis.
Among Washington City’s elected officials and staff, transparency holds important value. Ruesch said the City is embarking on a public information campaign to educate citizens on the power of its available data. “Citizens don’t always want to physically come in somewhere,” she said, “but we still want them to be informed and engaged. With OpenGov, we can help them see what we’re doing with their tax dollars and help them be comfortable with and confident in their government.”
Washington City’s team uses OpenGov streamline state-mandated transparency requirements by converting its chart of accounts to the state’s standard one.
Making financial data more transparent and easier to access has its benefits for governments’ bond ratings. That was certainly true for Washington City, which benefitted from real savings when the City opened its detailed financials. During its last bond refinancing, Washington City staff used the tool with Moody’s, which enabled the agency to access and verify detailed information easily during the rating process. The resulting refinance “allowed the City to save over $2 million in long-term interest costs,” Ruesch noted.
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