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We asked all 75 counties for their budgets. Here’s what we found.

By Caleb Taylor

How difficult is it to get a copy of a county budget in Arkansas?

According to ACRE research published in an op-ed the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on February 15th, that depends on which of the 75 Arkansas counties you ask.

Alexandria Tatem, a UCA Schedler Honor’s College student and an ACRE student worker (who has now graduated) explains that Faulkner, Washington and Sebastian Counties are currently the only three counties in Arkansas to post their complete budgets online. That makes the job of finding out how county officials are spending taxpayer dollars easy for her and their citizens.

For the remaining 72 counties who don’t post their budgets online, Tatem received  complete budgets by email and mail from 55 counties. It took 30 days, on average, to receive at least partial budgets from 67 counties.

She never received budgets from eight counties even after repeated attempts over several months using phone calls and emails.

How can this system be improved?

Tatem concludes:

All Arkansas counties should emulate Faulkner, Sebastian and Washington counties and publish current and historical budgets online. Doing so makes it easier for residents to access budgets. The benefits of fiscal transparency are well documented. A 2017 research paper in the Public Administration Review titled “25 Years of Transparency Research: Evidence and Future Directions” by Maria Cucciniello and others shows that fiscal transparency instills fiscal discipline and reduces corruption which in turn saves counties money. You might be concerned that poorer counties do not have the resources to create and maintain websites like wealthier counties. But there are alternatives, like using the Arkansas.gov platform. In fact, a 2018 transparency report by Mavuto Kalulu, Terra Aquia and Joyce Ajayi titled “Access Arkansas: County-Level Web Transparency” reveals that even the counties that do not have stand-alone websites have some web presence through the Arkansas.gov platform. Financial information, including budgets, should be added to the information that the counties share with the residents through this platform.”

 

You can find out more about “Access Arkansas: County-Level Web Transparency” here.

More of ACRE’s work on transparency can be found here and here.

Tatem’s work on this project was supervised by Dr. Mavuto Kalulu, a policy analyst at ACRE who focuses on transparency and good governance.