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Nassau Comptroller Jack Schnirman launches online Open Checkbook

Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman at a news

Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman at a news conference Wednesday in Mineola, where he unveiled the new county-based web portal. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau residents can now easily review how the county spends more than $1 billion on outside contractors through a new website created by County Comptroller Jack Schnirman.

The Nassau County Open Checkbook site provides details on county expenditures dating back to 2016, including spending by county agencies on private vendors. The site, officials said, will eventually be updated to include data from years earlier.

"Now, just like you can with your own finances, you pick up your phone or turn on your computer and track how government is spending your money," Schnirman said at a news conference Wednesday in Mineola where he unveiled the new county-based web portal.

Schnirman, a Democrat who took office in 2018, said the online checkbook is the first stage of the county's new cloud-based transparency and open-records web platform, which allows members of the public to track spending by department, vendor and expense categories. The site is free and does not require any registration.

The data, he said, will be updated monthly, and by year-end should include county budget and payroll data, although the site will not include the names and salaries of all Nassau employees. 

The site also does not yet track internal spending by government agencies. For example, members of the public can use the site to search for road resurfacing work by private vendors but not how much the Department of Public Works had spent on pothole repair by county staff.

"When we talk about open finances this is exactly what we mean," Schnirman said. "Real data that anyone can access and that anyone can use."

Government watchdogs said the platform was long overdue.

“The Nassau County Open Checkbook will offer taxpayers a precise accounting of their money," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. "All New Yorkers deserve this level of transparency, and other counties should follow suit."

John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said the platform is a crucial first step to making Nassau's government more accountable to the public. "We look forward to seeing Nassau as one of New York State’s leading localities for spending and fiscal transparency," Kaehny said.

The county has collected spending data for several years, Schnirman said, but made little effort to make the information publicly accessible.

Schnirman's predecessor, George Maragos, made county expenditure data available on Excel spreadsheets. Schnirman said the dense reports were not in a user-friendly format and were "vague and inaccessible" to the average county resident. 

Schnirman said his office will use the website data to measure if government programs and services have been successful and are providing a bang for the taxpayer's buck.

“The Open Checkbook is an innovative effort that will help us follow through on our promise of fiscal integrity," said County Executive Laura Curran.

The county paid Tyler Technologies, a Texas-based software company, $170,000 to help create and manage the portal. The contract pays Tyler Technologies $149,800 in 2019 and $160,286 in 2020, officials said. The cost of the contract will be split evenly between Schnirman's office and Curran's office.

"The first step to building a data-driven government is making data discoverable, usable, and actionable,” said Kevin Merritt, president of the Data & Insights Division of Tyler Technologies.

Members of the comptroller's office will be presenting the Open Checkbook site to civic and chamber of commerce groups in the coming weeks.

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