GONZALES — Ascension Parish government officials unveiled on Wednesday a new Open Finance online portal that will allow residents to track revenue and spending to a degree never before available in the parish, officials said.
It is a concept that has been discussed for several years: offer something akin to state government's Louisiana Checkbook. The online portal is the outgrowth of an organizational review and computer modernization effort begun under the prior administration and Parish Council that saw its fulfillment under Parish President Clint Cointment and the current council.
The first-term president ran on transparency, promising during the 2019 campaign to offer better access to financial data. Since taking office, though, he has also faced criticism from some council members for not being responsive enough to their questions, among them, budgetary and process concerns over hiring and drainage.
"Transparency is the first step in building trust with our residents, and, let me tell you, one thing we need to be working on is building trust with our residents," Cointment said in a news conference at the parish complex. "Open Finance will bring a level of transparency never before seen in our parish."
For years, the parish website has posted annual audits and budgets online. Parish administrations have provided an overview of government finances each month to a Parish Council committee, which is video recorded, televised and shared online.
But parish officials said Open Finance will provide real-time revenue and spending data in new detail, updated every Sunday morning. On Wednesday, Patrick Goldsmith, Ascension's new chief financial officer and treasurer, showed how Open Finance could be used to compare budgeted and actual spending.
Figures show, for example, that the East Ascension drainage district has spent nearly 75% of the $705,000 set aside for the Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station operations. In what has been a stormy 2021, the station still has half a year to go.
The portal goes back to the 2018 fiscal year. Goldsmith said offerings will expand to include payments to vendors and salary information for each parish job.
Just two days after the East Ascension drainage board voted to remove Cointment as head of drainage for 90% of the parish's population, the start of Open Finance achieves a goal of the president and his council critics alike.
Open Finance can be accessed at https://ascensionparishla.finance.socrata.com/#!/dashboard.