Databases available to compare budget information on different towns

A government transparency group unveiled a  new website Tuesday containing databases of municipal budgets that will enable residents and others to compare budget information on different towns. currently contains budget information on 54 towns, but the website will eventually add information on about 30 towns each week.

It was created by the Independent Center, a non-partisan public policy think tank. Funding was provided by the Geraldine R. Foundation, headed by former gubernatorial candidate Chris Daggett.

Currently, municipalities send a budget in a paper format to the Department of Community Affairs.

Mark Magyar, founder of the Independent Center, said the website is intended to make it easier for taxpayers and others to readily obtain information and see where their property tax dollars are being spent.

By comparing the services, Magyar said it could lead municipalities to share and regionalize them.

Another official, Tom Byrne, said the strives to provide budget information that is readily understandable, which is something that not all towns do well.

“I believe there is deliberate obfuscation,” Byrne said.

Byrne added that the website is still a work in progress, as they work to get information on all 566 towns posted.  

“It’s still both evolving and growing,” said Byrne.

Among the information provided about the towns are  average property tax bills, crime data, state aid figures, department budgets, data on base salaries of employees, demographics, and size of the town’s work force, among other components.

In a demonstration Tuesday, Ridgewood was compared with Princeton and Princeton Township,  given their similar socio-economic traits.

Daggett said the website could help provide information that would otherwise not be readily available, especially with newspaper coverage fading.

“There just isn’t as much coverage in a formal fashion,” Daggett said.