Delhi officials deal with public transparency law

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By Beau Hayhoe
Holt Journal staff writer

Delhi Township officials are evaluating their economic performance using a series of metrics, including a community citizens' guide.

Delhi Charter Township officials continue to evaluate their economic performance as they deal with the aftermath of a law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder last year that requires local governments to provide public measures of their fiscal success.

A portion of Public Act 263 of 2011 — passed in June 2011 — required that local governments provide a “performance dashboard,” as well as a citizens’ guide to their economic standing and budget figures.

The Economic Vitality Incentive Program said that communities should pattern their dashboard after the state’s own dashboard system, which measures categories such as quality of life, public safety and economic strength.

Communities that failed to do so by Oct. 1, 2011, risked losing about one-third of their state revenue sharing.

Delhi Charter Township would have lost about $12,000 in state revenue had it not met the deadline, Township Manager John Elsinga said.

According to its website, Delhi Charter Township’s dashboard measures quality of life, public safety, economic strength and fiscal stability.

The dashboard shows, among other things, that the number of new businesses in the township from 2009 to 2010 has doubled — from 10 to 20 — and the number of home foreclosures dropped.

It also shows the township’s general fund expenditures per capita increased from $262 to $313.

The township’s citizens’ guide also shows that federal and local contributions to the township increased from 2009 to 2010, and its total revenues increased to more than $20 million.

Elsinga said officials are preparing to compile more recent data for the dashboard.

He said the process of compiling the information for the dashboard was relatively easy, as the township already kept most of it.

“If you have good data to start with, it’s easy to do,” he said.

Elsinga said the performance dashboard provides a good barometer of how well the township is faring in tough times.

“I think it can elevate and inform … understanding of how we set or stack up with other communities,” he said.

In a  few years, officials will hopefully be able to glean performance trends from the dashboard, he said.

“I would like to think that a typical citizen may be able to extract from it information about their community and look for trends and look for their neighbors’ communities,” Elsinga said.

Township clerk Evan Hope said compiling the township’s financial information into a dashboard and guide was simply another step toward greater transparency.

Hope said Delhi Township had provided financial information for more than a decade through its website, but the dashboard reconfigures the information.

“Especially with the software we’re using, it takes our very complicated budget and makes it easier to read,” he said. “We have transparency and accessibility.”

He said the law provided a means for the township to connect  more with residents, as citizens have often called with questions about the dashboard, the township’s budget and the website.

Holt resident Maureen Gibbons said she thinks Delhi officials are transparent in disclosing the township’s financial activities.

She said she has never encountered any trouble accessing information from the township.

“I think you can find things out if you need to,” she said. “You can go to the (township board) meetings … people answer your questions.”

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