The Cabell County Clerk’s Office is making a move toward more transparency in local government, and that’s a good thing.
County Clerk Phyllis Smith plans to ask the county commission to consider the use of a website so the public can track how $17.9 million in American Rescue Plan funds is spent.
“I think people will be looking to see where it’s going,” Smith told The Herald-Dispatch reporter McKenna Horsley.
The website is created by the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office for local governments to use to report their ARP spending. Smith said she plans to reach out to the office for further information about implementing the website.
The ARP is part of a national stimulus package designed to help communities recover from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a one-time infusion of a large amount of money, and local governments must spend it wisely. Thus, it is imperative that the public can see where the money goes.
Anthony Woods, a West Virginia deputy state auditor, said the State Auditor’s Office has been working with local governments on Project Mountaineer to create websites similar to WVCheckbook.gov so the public may see how public money is spent.
“What we’re doing with this ARP stuff is we are giving folks the option to use that transparency portal to not only show their citizens where this ARP money is going, but also to assist those local governments in reporting to the Treasury,” Woods said.
He said the Auditor’s Office wants to give local governments that may not be familiar with federal grants tools to help with reporting the use of their funds to the federal government. The program is available at no cost to local governments.
The Auditor’s Office can assist with the management, setup and maintenance of websites to track ARP funds, Woods said. Some local governments add other information for the public, such as police department overtime, he said.
“If they want to make it just ARP-related, they can, but we certainly encourage all of our transparency partners to go the full mile and put everything out there,” Woods said.
Smith told Horsley the county could implement a similar program to report all spending someday.
Across the street, the city of Huntington has received about half of its $40 million in ARP funds. City Communications Director Bryan Chambers said the city will soon provide a summary of all ARP appropriations on its website and plans to update it regularly.
Cabell County and other local governments in West Virginia and elsewhere would be wise to accept such offers that give the public more access to information about how public money is spent. A little transparency now prevents a lot of problems in the future.