Spending plans need to be presented in readable form


Clarity in government is essential for the participation of the people. In few places is that clarity as important as a town or city budget.

The town budget has a great impact on people's daily lives. But many budgets presented to citizens, especially in smaller towns, are difficult to read. The documents are full of abbreviations and tightly-packed figures that may capture the spirit and the most essential information on the budget process, but it’s meaningless to most citizens.

A budget summary or narrative can be helpful. The issue with one of these attached to a budget that citizens can't read is that they don't know exactly how trustworthy or inclusive the information is; they can't verify it on their own. This is a tall hurdle that makes it hard for constituents to feel empowered.

The role of government is the authoritative allocation of scarce resources. Towns' budget officers are working to stay under the 2 percent tax cap, and for some towns this can mean a few thousand dollars up or down. With that little wiggle room, informed feedback from constituents is more valuable than usual this budget year.

The role of citizens is to hold their representatives accountable. If the citizens can't account for the money their government is spending, they're missing out on participating in the most important function of their governing body.

The problem with many of these publicly distributed documents is their extreme brevity. There's a lot of information to put in there, but handing out small books for public review is awfully inefficient. Paper's not what it used to be in this 21st century.

Space was a consideration in those bygone days before data bits flew through cables and airwaves, bringing us funny cats and free news articles. Now, all that bandwidth required for Mittens' latest mishap can easily accommodate a bigger document packed with easier-to-digest line items.

Comments may be directed to denpubs@denpubs.com.

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