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San Diego Rolls Out Interactive Online Budget Tool

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Budget.SanDiego.gov

A pie chart showing San Diego's proposed operating budget for 2015-2016 is seen in this screenshot of the budget.sandiego.gov site.

San Diego’s budget is usually presented as a 1,700-page PDF document, making it hard for residents to figure out how the city is spending its money.

San Diego’s budget is usually presented as a 1,700-page PDF document, making it hard for residents to figure out how the city is spending its money.

But not this year.

For the first time, city staff have made San Diego’s spending plan into an interactive online tool.

RELATED: Budget Analyst: Faulconer’s Proposed Budget Is ‘Good News’ For San Diegans

A series of pie charts break down spending in Mayor Kevin Faulconer's proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Clicking slices of the pie brings further breakdowns of departments' spending, allowing viewers to look deeper and deeper into the budget. For example, they can click on public safety, then on police, then on patrol operations to see each division’s funding.

Almis Udrys, the city's director of performance and analytics, said he thinks San Diego is now sharing more information with the public than any government in the region.

Special Feature Play the Budget Game

What would you change about the city budget? Click here to play.

"We think showing the public our budget information engages them in a way like never before," he said. "We also believe in transparency and showing an unprecedented amount of information to the public."

Los Angeles, Oakland and other cities have also used online tools to help the public interact with their budgets.

Building an interactive budget was one of the goals of San Diego's new chief data officer Maksim Pecherskiy, who was hired at the end of 2014.

The city paid $49,000 to Redwood City, Calif.-based OpenGov.com to design the online tool. Udrys said the budget’s data will also be available for downloads next week.

In addition to increasing transparency, he said the tool will help city staff look at the budget proposal in advance of the City Council's budget hearings next week.

"It also allows us to see our budget information in a way we’ve never seen it before," Udrys said. "So that we ourselves can say, OK, this is how much we're spending in this particular area and these various departments, and maybe there's some efficiencies and some leveraging we can do to do better."

The tool also has frequently asked questions, a search function and notes that provide further information on a specific item. Visitors to the web page will be able to ask questions, submit ideas and provide feedback on ways to improve the tool.

Ben Katz, political director for the advocacy group Open San Diego, said he was pleased with the online tool and hopes it can be used for more open government projects in the future.

"This is a great step forward for the city of San Diego and a clear sign of what’s to come," he said. "They’re using an open government platform and I’m looking forward to everything else that will be delivered through that in the coming year."

Katz said he hopes the tool will be used to show how the city is spending its money as well as its budget proposals.

"A budget is one thing, how we actually spend our money is a different thing," he said. "That’s the number one thing I'm looking forward to seeing down the line."

Udrys said information from previous fiscal years' budgets will also be added later. The tool currently only offers data on the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, not how much the city is actually spending. The numbers will be updated when a spending plan is adopted by the City Council.

Matt Awbrey, a spokesman for Faulconer, said the page is part of an effort to redesign the city's overall website to make it easier for the public to use and retrieve data, and be more mobile device-friendly. The mayor's website is an example of the redesign, which is expected to be fully implemented next year.

City News Service contributed to this report. An earlier version of this story stated the wrong city where OpenGov.com is based. It has been updated.

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Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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