Civic Hackers Launch Toolset to Shed Light on Sacramento’s City Budget

Sacramento, California

Sacramento, California Andrew Zarivny /


Connecting state and local government leaders

A group affiliated with Code for America released a new suite of online apps this week, meant to help people explore the city’s revenue and spending.

Thanks to a group of civic hackers, taxpayers and others interested in where the city of Sacramento gets its cash, and how that money is spent, will have a new set of online tools at their disposal to explore the city’s budget.

The suite of new online apps, dubbed Open Budget Sacramento, was announced on Thursday by Code for Sacramento, a local brigade of the San Francisco-based group Code for America. Each app offers a different way to visualize, and drill down into the budget.

Paving the way for the tools was the release of figures for Sacramento’s fiscal 2015-2016 proposed budget in an interactive, machine-readable spreadsheet, through the city’s open data website. Prior to that release, the budget was published online in PDF format.

Code for Sacramento volunteers created the new apps.

“A project like this demonstrates the value of the city reaching the ‘next level’ of openness with its information, in which information is not just shown to the citizens, but also entrusted to them to do with as they wish,” Joel Riphagen, one of the volunteers, said in a statement.

Flow diagram tool on the Open Budget Sacramento website (Source: Open Budget Sacramento)

One of the new tools features an interactive flow diagram. The diagram is meant to enable users to easily see which city expenses are covered by various revenue streams. The app is based on one available through Open Budget: Oakland, an online project from the nonprofit group OpenOakland, which aims to help people understand that Bay Area city’s budget.

Tree map. (Source: Open Budget Sacramento)

Another of the new Sacramento apps provides a “tree map,” which offers users a way to see how much money each city department is allotted, which programs those dollars are spent on, and how those amounts have changed compared to the previous year. A third tool allows for users to quickly retrieve detailed information about specific expenditures. For instance: How much does the city fire department spend on fuel, computer equipment, or overtime?

Code for Sacramento noted in its announcement that the tools currently rely on data from the city’s proposed budget, because figures for the spending plan the City Council adopted earlier this year have not yet been posted on the open data website. They also said they’d like to see additional information from the budget posted on the open data website, such as employee counts.

Bill Lucia is a Reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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