Yesterday’s announcement that Suffolk County is in a state of financial emergency, caught our attention, as did the unsearchable 1184 page budget document the county has buried on its website. It like some lucky Suffolk employee laboriously scanned all 1184 pages of a paper document and saved those scans as a pdf document. By doing this, Suffolk made its budget much, much harder for the interested outsiders to understand. If Suffolk wanted to be fiscally transparent, it would post its budget online as a searchable pdf file accompanied by a downloadable spreadsheet in CSV or XML formats. This would be both much more useful to the public, journalists, advocates and legislators, and much cheaper than scanning almost two thousand pages.
Only governments with something to hide post huge documents in unsearchable, usable formats. It is not credible that one of New York’s richest and most populous counties — a county slated to spend $2.6 billion in 2012 — cannot post its budget online in a form that the public can use.
County Executive Steve Ballone seems to want to confront Suffolk’s fiscal fiasco. He posted a link to a downloadable report prepared by a task force of outside experts which uses simple graphs and tables to show in broad strokes that Suffolk has much higher spending than revenue. At least that report is short, and computer searchable. But if Mr. Ballone is serious about fiscal transparency — which he should be — he needs to put Suffolk’s lengthy operating and capital budgets online in formats that allow the public to understand and assess them.