Technology + transparency: A win-win for cities
Another important reason for a financial tune-is to enable greater transparency into city operations. When citizens have visibility into city finances they may be more inclined to vote yes on the next bond issue to pay for an infrastructure upgrade.
In early 2014, Edmonton, Alberta added data on its operating budget to the city’s open data catalog. Cities often post their budgets online, but the Edmonton approach will allow citizens to actually manipulate or reformat it. Mayor Don Iveson told the local media that it’s about freeing up the information the city has and that citizens have paid for. “Open government,” he said, “is about trusting that our public is going to add value to our decision making if they can see more of the information.”
Similarly, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti launched a new website to make it easier for people to review his city’s finances. It features interactive graphs of the current and past budget, including multi-year trends and departmental revenue and expenditure details.
Increasing transparency also allows cities to get more visibility and control over civil servants’ spending as well as over the use of public benefits. For instance:
- Virtual payment cards can be generated on-the-fly and used only for a specific amount and with a specific supplier. This avoids loss of control over expenses when multiple people get corporate cards or access to payment instruments. Likewise, travel and expense (T&E) can be loaded and controlled remotely and given to city employees for specific purposes.
- Prepaid benefits cards give government agencies much greater control over the use of public funds. For instance, usage can be limited by time of day, category of merchants, or geographical area. Prepaid cards can be used for all kinds of city programs, including student benefits, cafeteria cards, childcare subsidies, pensions, etc. The city of Toronto is saving roughly $2.5 million per year by eliminating checks in favor of prepaid benefits cards.
Numerous systems can help cities become more efficient and more transparent. In this chapter we’ll introduce a smarter approach to financial management and payments. We’ll also step outside city hall to explore ways to promote smarter payment practices across the city.