New Website Breaks Down Charlottesville's Budget

Posted: Updated:

A new website is showing Charlottesville residents how the city distributes their tax dollars.

Smart Cville created the Charlottesville Budget Visualization project, which is color coordinated and maps out how the city’s revenues and expenses spread out over a fiscal year.

The interactive tools on the site include information on specific departments and how much yearly property taxes contributes to their fund.

Smart Cville says Charlottesville is the first city in the state to use this form of budget visualization.

"It’s takes a really complicated financial instrument like the city budget and breaks it down into an interactive visualization with more digestible chunks for the average citizen to understand," said Lucas Ames with Smart Cville.

The website is free to use and was not developed by the city, so no taxpayer dollars went toward it.

The data source for the website only uses city budget numbers as recent as 2014, but Smart Cville developers say they plan to go further back, as well as add additional details on department break-downs.

Press release from Smart Cville:

It is with great pleasure that Smart Cville is publishing its Charlottesville Budget Visualization project. We believe that this project takes valuable, yet complicated, data and makes it easier to comprehend. There is nothing easy about the budget process and our city does a great job to make the budget process work. Our visualization utilizes technology to help citizens understand how the city raises and spends money in a simpler, more straightforward manner. Hopefully the transparency and inclusiveness inherent in this project will encourage more citizens to engage politically. Transparent and open government has demonstrated the power not only to achieve this goal, but also to engender confidence and trust among citizens toward government.

This deployment of the Budget Visualization takes the actual budget numbers from 2014 and compares them to budgeted numbers for 2015 and 2016. The site is divided into Revenue, Expenses, and Funds. Using what’s called “tree maps”, the visualization helps clarify different portions of the budget. For example, users get a sense of what “Public Safety and Justice” will cost us in 2016 ($36 million) and get a visualization of how that fits to the larger budget. Users can also delve deeper into the category to view funding for Police, Fire, and other subsections. The site also allows users to enter their estimated taxes to get a sense of how much or how little city services cost them personally each year. For Smart Cville, this is only a start to this project. In the future, we hope to take the budget back to year prior to 2014 and add levels of detail to the budget. We also hope to continue using open data to demonstrate in small ways the power of civic innovation.

This project would not be possible without some great leaders in Massachusetts. In the fall of 2013, Involution Studios of Arlington, MA, along with the Town of Arlington, former Town Selectman Annie LaCourt and Finance Committee Vice-Chair Alan Jones, conceptualized a web application that provides an easier way to communicate complex municipal financial information. Involution donated all development services for this project, the first known municipal budget visual representation of its kind. We’ve adapted this project, offered for free, and moved it south to Virginia where Charlottesville is the first city in the Commonwealth to use this visualization. While other cities in the Commonwealth have budget visualizations, they are published on sites that carry costs to the taxpayer. Smart Cville developed this site without cost to the city to demonstrate what data plus civic engagement can contribute to local governments.

For more information about Smart Cville and who we are, please visit our website at http://www.smartcville.com or follow us on Twitter @SmartCville.

  • Sign Up for Email Alerts

    Sign up to receive news, weather, and breaking news emails from the NBC29 newsroom in your inbox daily.

    * denotes required fields

    Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.