House Bill 762, a bill that recently passed out of the Missouri House of Representatives, would make it easier for Missouri residents to see the detailed financial information of their city government.
Rep. John Wiemann (R - O’Fallon) said this bill would create the Missouri Government Expenditure Database. This database, he said, would be accessible to Missouri residents without charge.
“We want to make sure that governments at all levels are being responsive to citizens with regard to their finances,” he said. “If they’re able to take taxpayers’ money, then they need to be able to easily show and provide that information on how that tax money is spent.”
Wiemann said less than 15% of the approximate 955 Missouri municipalities publish any financial documents online. He said this online database will act as a tool to help cities by easily gathering information required to be submitted to state authorities.
This database, he said, will also help residents obtain financial related documents without the need of a Missouri Sunshine request.
“Right now, it’s very cumbersome and difficult to get anything without a Sunshine request,” he said.
HB 762 states for each expenditure, the database will provide information for residents including the amount of the expenditure, the date the municipality paid the expenditure, the purpose of the expenditure and the municipality that made the expenditure or requested the expenditure be made. The bill will include the vendor to whom the municipality paid the expenditure unless the disclosure of the vendor's name would violate a confidentiality requirement, in which case the vendor may be listed as confidential.
City Manager Molly McGovern said Excelsior Springs city staff currently publishes financial documents online each month. City staff uses the same documents in their day-to-day dealings, she said. They can be found at cityofesmo.com/index.php/finance/financial-reports/.
McGovern said these financial documents remain public record and the city can provide these documents to any resident at any time.
Steve Marriott, director of administrative services, said he publishes these documents at the end of each month. He said the reports typically publish before the 15th of the following month.
Doug Richey (R - Excelsior Springs) said lawmakers intended HB 762 to help increase the transparency between cities and residents.
“The intent of HB 762 is to make greater transparency available to local communities, should there be concern among a significant portion of their residents,” he said.
Penalties lined out in the bill include a possible fine of $100 per day of non-compliance. In a worst-case scenario, Wiemann said failure to become compliant may result in a municipality being dissolved. However, Wiemann said the chances of desolation occurring does not appear to be very large.
At this time, Wiemann said it does appear the bill may become voluntary before being passed by the Missouri Senate. Richey said although the bill may become voluntary, it will still fulfill a purpose to Missouri communities.
“This bill will more than likely end up putting a voluntary system in place so that communities have easier access to a more complete picture of how local tax dollars are being spent," he said”
McGovern said if the bill becomes voluntary, city staff will look at the time needed to provide the information to the database before determining how to proceed.
Because the information can already be found on the city’s website, she said, staff hours may be needed elsewhere. They will consider this further should the bill pass.
Wiemann said he hopes the bill will pass and become implemented by the Missouri government. He said he believes both municipalities and residents will reap its benefits.
“We see it as a major positive benefit,” he said.