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County website offers look at credit-card spending

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By AJ Vicens

The Jeffco commissioners have charged more than $1,200 on their county credit cards since May 5, on items ranging from airline tickets to T-shirts.

This information, available in the past through open records requests usually accompanied by several days of waiting, comes from the county's new online procurement card database, a feature the county says will increase transparency for residents wondering how their tax dollars are being spent.

"The better description you have, the more citizens are able to understand that there was a business reason for the expense," said county spokeswoman Kathryn Heider.

The plan to put all procurement-card — the county's term for employee credit cards — records online has been about a year and a half in the making. It's one part of an ongoing project called "Transparent Jeffco," which is a Web page featuring a blog written by top county officials and a data search tool. The county plans on putting its checkbook online by August, and a searchable contract database and budget database by 2010. It's possible now to look at electronic files of contracts, but a searchable format similar to the credit cards is coming in 2010.

The credit card transaction database goes back only to mid-April, and Heider said the county probably won't older information.

"It's probably just going to be from the implementation date forward, but we'll do as much as we can," Heider said. "Maybe down the road we'll go back and pick up previous reports."

Heider admitted that beyond making the financial information more accessible to county residents, the county is hoping to minimize the time it spends handling open records requests.

"Eventually, with all the financial information up there, you won't need to do open records requests," Heider said. "You can just go to the website for those things."

Heider said the database will continue to improve as it becomes more complete, and as employees learn how to fully describe charges.

For example, someone from the sheriff's office charged $1,495.55 on May 6 for "camera supplies." The listing lists the vendor as "ROCKWESTTEC" of California, but it doesn't list the specific employee who made the purchase, and the fields for "expense type" and "business unit description" were left blank.

Also, the information is usually about a month old, but Heider said that's because the banks have to get the information to the county in a form that can be moved into the database, which takes time.

Still, the database opens up myriad possibilities for researching county employees' use of tax dollars.

In the search bar at the top of the database, terms like "airlines" or "hotel" can be searched to pull up all charges that include those words. A search under the term "airline" reveals that county employees have charged $4,955.30 in airline-related expenses since May 5. The search term "hotel" brings up 56 database entries between May 6 and June 4, the last date available.

"This is an amazing step forward," Heider said. "It's a major step to get all this pulled together. It's something that takes us a long time to really build out, but we think we've come a lot further than most counties in getting our financial information up there."

To access Jefferson County's online credit card listings, checkbook and contract database, visit www.jeffco.us and click on the "What's New, Interactive Reports" link in the top-right corner of the Web page.