The state of Tennessee is ensuring the accountability of local governments when it comes to finances as the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has relaunched its “Where the Money Goes” website to include a dashboard providing transparency to the forefront of government.
The online tool, also known as Transparency and Accountability for Governments, offers users an easy-to-use platform to track revenue, expenditure, and debt information for any, or all, of Tennessee’s 95 county governments and can be used to track changes over a designated period of time.
The revamped site includes an interactive map of Tennessee and user-friendly dashboards that can be explored for more detailed information on sources of revenue, expenditures, and types of debt, all of which are pulled from annual financial and compliance audits conducted in each county across the state.
While financial information is available on all 95 counties, the 90 counties whose audits are performed by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office have more details available on the “Where the Money Goes” website than the other five counties. During the 2020 fiscal year, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, McMinn, and Shelby counties were audited by non-government owned CPA firms.
“This site helps Tennesseans get a quick snapshot of how county governments are using their tax dollars,” state Comptroller Jason Mumpower explained. “While an audit report will always provide the best insights into a government’s financial activities, ‘Where the Money Goes’ provides high-level information that doesn’t require you to know how to read a balance sheet.”
The website will be useful for elected officials and residents who are looking for simple information about the financial position of their county or a county they may be considering for relocation. The site will also allow users to quickly compare one county’s financial picture to another. A user could see which counties are carrying a significant amount of debt into the future or which five counties across the state were debt free at the end of the 2020 fiscal year.
“I think this is a great tool for people to use to see how the county is doing, or for people who may be looking to relocate to the area,” County Executive Denny Wayne Robinson said. “I have people call the office daily asking about the amount of taxes that would be paid on a piece of property they may be interested in. This tool will show them how that money is being spent.”
Robinson said it is also important to note that the majority of the county’s revenue comes from the state of Tennessee and not from local taxes, and, that in order to receive those funds, the state mandates how much revenue the county must provide.
“There’s a line we can’t go below,” Robinson said. “If we lower our contribution, the state lowers theirs.”
Robinson pointed to a larger number, almost $20 million larger, on the expenditure line for 2020 as evidence, saying that difference came from a bridge repair on a state road.
“The state actually contributed 98 percent of those funds,” Robinson explained. “We only had to use county revenues to fund two percent of that project, so it is important to understand where the numbers are coming from.”
Robinson also pointed out that in a nearly 56-million-dollar budget for the upcoming year, only $18 million of that is going to county finances as the other $38 million is for the public school system.
“Again, I think this new dashboard is a great tool for people to see what is happening in their local counties,” he stated, saying that it could open up a lot of discussion among both residents and officials.
To view the “Where the Money Goes” site, click here.