North Hempstead residents can now precisely track how their tax dollars are spent, with the town’s recent launch of a comprehensive website showing years of its expenditures.
From auto equipment purchases to contracts awarded to vendors, residents can access online checkbooks dating from 2014 up to January 2017.
Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said the website — northhempstead.com/opengov — is part of her administration’s ongoing effort to boost openness and transparency.
“North Hempstead residents shouldn’t feel like they’re playing Pokemon Go while they’re trying to figure out how the town is spending their tax dollars,” Bosworth said. “It’s their money; they should know how we’re spending it.”
Residents would previously have had to file Freedom of Information Law requests to obtain the information. Through Open Checkbook, an interactive platform from technology provider OpenGov, residents can sift through financial records by vendors, town departments, invoices and other filters, down to the last cent.
North Hempstead is the only town on Long Island to post its checkbooks online, a move that Manhattan-based nonprofit Reclaim New York lauded as a significant step to repairing the “broken trust” between citizens and government.
Nassau County has contracts and claims spanning from 2013 to 2017 available on its website. Suffolk County lists a selection of contracts annually on its website, though the data is not organized by year.
Real-time data is not available on Long Island.
“It shouldn’t take citizens hounding government or filing a lawsuit to find out where taxpayer dollars are going,” said Doug Kellogg, communications director at Reclaim New York.
As part of its ongoing transparency project, which began in 2015, Reclaim New York submitted Freedom of Information requests for 2014 checkbook data to every county, city, town, village and school district on Long Island — a total of 253 requests. Across Nassau and Suffolk counties, 196 municipalities, or 77 percent, complied on time. The nonprofit filed several lawsuits, including against the towns of Oyster Bay, Babylon and Islip, to procure their checkbooks.
As of early February, 20 governments on Long Island have yet to hand over their 2014 checkbooks, Kellogg said. In Nassau, the list includes the villages of Baxter Estates, Cedarhurst, Island Park, Hempstead, Lake Success, Roslyn Harbor and Upper Brookville. The village of Islandia, in Suffolk County, has yet to provide records.
Municipalities are required by state law to make budgets physically available to the public, though not necessarily online. Digital access to financial records varies widely on Long Island, with some towns compiling scant records of budgets, and others a mass of archival documents such as annual audits, financial reports, bond credit ratings and more.
Kellogg said residents need financial documents to keep their governments accountable and that they should be able to see where tax dollars are funneled, without having to file a Freedom of Information request.
“It really shouldn’t be controversial or difficult . . . Citizens are owed these records under law,” Kellogg said. “We certainly hope other governments will follow suit,” he added, referring to North Hempstead’s website.
Bosworth said constituents deserve to see the checks the town writes, and that the website will likely be updated on a quarterly basis.
Digital access to financial records varies widely on Long Island. Where to find some of the information:
toh.li/town-budget (2013-2017 budgets)
northhempstead.com/ToNH-Budgets (2013-17 budgets)
northhempstead.com/opengov (2014-17 checkbooks)
northhempsteadny.gov/cafr (2008-15 financial reports)
oysterbaytown.com/departments/town-comptroller/ (2017 budget)
townofbabylon.com/index.aspx?nid=136 (2013-2017 budgets, 2011-2015 audited financial statements)
brookhavenny.gov/Departments/Finance (2011-17 budgets, 2009-11 financial reports and 2012-15 audited financial statements)
ehamptonny.gov/Archive.aspx?AMID=45 (2012-17 budgets)
ehamptonny.gov/296/Audits-Financial-Reports (2012-15 financial reports and 2012-15 audited financial statements)
huntingtonny.gov/content/13753/13757/17478/17482/default.aspx (2013-17 budgets, 2011-15 financial reports and 2011-15 audited financial statements)
islipny.gov/component/docman/cat_view/9-comptroller?Itemid=231 (2015-17 budgets and 2012-13 audited financial statements)
townofriverheadny.gov/pview.aspx?id=3717&catID=118 (2005-17 budgets, 2005-15 financial reports and 2005-15 audited financial statements)
shelterislandtown.us/sitownbudget?ref=78 (2016-17 budgets)
smithtownny.gov/index.aspx?nid=116 (2011-17 adopted budgets and 2010-15 audited financial statements)
southamptontownny.gov/209/Finance-Comptroller (2011-17 budgets)
southamptontownny.gov/274/Reports-Studies (2008-15 financial reports and 2008-15 audited financial statements)
ny-southold.civicplus.com/380/Accounting-Personnel (2008-17 budgets)
ny-southold.civicplus.com/Archive.aspx?AMID=39 (2005-14 audited financial statements)
ny-southold.civicplus.com/Archive.aspx?AMID=37 (2008-15 annual financial reports)