When Johnson County Community College writes a check for products or services, Ben Hodge wants local taxpayers to have the ability to find out to whom and where that money is going. Early next year,taxpayers will get that chance when the college creates an online searchable, itemized database for expenditures.
As a former Kansas state legislator and member of the Johnson County Community Board of Trustees, Hodges has pushed to make government more financially accountable at the state and local levels.
“You usually have to drag governments into doing this,” Hodges explained.
However, when Hodges presented the idea to the board of trustees, the college’s president, Terry A. Calaway, “picked up the ball and ran with it,” Hodges said.
The initiative will cost taxpayers an estimated $25,000, but Hodges said that’s a small slice of JCCC’s $143 million annual budget.
“I’m of the opinion that before any new tax should be raised or created anywhere that we should justify current expenses,” Hodges said. “… I believe this is a service to the taxpayers. With technology the way it is today, this is very doable. It’s a doable project.”
The majority of the community college’s revenue comes from three sources: Johnson County property taxes, tuition and a limited amount from the state. The college uses an internal auditor, but with the new online database, Hodges said individual Johnson County residents will be able to act as auditors as well.
Johnson County residents won’t be able to examine every penny the college spends – administrators and other college staff have discretionary budgets in which every receipt likely will not be disclosed on the database. And certain expenses won’t be itemized.
For example, Hodges said if he were to attend a community college conference in Chicago, individual receipts for hotel and car rental wouldn’t be available on the site, but a total cost for the trip would be disclosed online.
“My understanding is if 100 percent was perfect detail online, we may hit 85 percent right away,” Hodges said. “It may not be perfect, but it’s certainly better than having nothing… I’m pleased that the community college is setting a good example.”
Hodges would like to see other governments – particularly school districts – create similar Web sites.
He said school districts in Kansas get approximately 50 percent of state tax dollars.
“You have 300-some odd school districts. Each with their own budgets, and you can’t make sense of any of them,” he said.
“I would support a state law mandating (online expenditure databases) of every local government. Until we can implement some broad fundamental tax reform, the next best thing is more transparency – more sunshine on where the money is being spent for the average taxpayer.”