Citizens auditing committees could yield big savings for taxpayers
With improved state transparency laws and communities all over Illinois voluntarily becoming more transparent online, there’s never been a better time for citizens to get involved and hold local government accountable. But simply advocating for transparent government isn’t enough to identify waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars. Ultimately, government watchdogs must make use of...
With improved state transparency laws and communities all over Illinois voluntarily becoming more transparent online, there’s never been a better time for citizens to get involved and hold local government accountable.
But simply advocating for transparent government isn’t enough to identify waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars. Ultimately, government watchdogs must make use of that publicly available information to identify problems and advocate for change.
One way to become an effective taxpayer advocate is to form a citizens audit committee to review local government spending.
The idea comes from the Yankee Institute for Public Policy in Connecticut where they have created a manual called “How to Reduce Property Taxes with a Citizens Audit Committee”
The goal of the manual is “to help local politicians, taxpayer activists, and concerned citizens to lower onerous property taxes by organizing to reduce local budgets, both for their towns and their schools.”
The Yankee Institute recommends that elected officials and citizens organize themselves into a group of volunteers who, “can provide independent and objective oversight to budgeting and spending practices by assessing whether there is efficiency effectiveness, and economy in the use of economy in the use of physical, human and financial resources.”
The organization can either be a group officially sanctioned by a local government or be set up independently by concerned citizens.
The Yankee Institute’s manual provides great suggestions on how to form subcommittees, research effectively and use the media to put pressure on local governments.
It also identifies key areas for the citizens audit committee to examine for potential savings. The check register is identified as “the most important financial document to review and analyze initially.” Virtually all money a local government spends outside of payrolls can be found in a check register, so it’s a great place to start looking for questionable spending.
An examination of a check register might lead to a discovery similar to what was revealed in a Chicago Tribune story about the village of Tinley Park spending more than $176,000 at a local florist, which was suspiciously owned by the family of the zoning administrator.
The manual identifies dozens of additional ways a citizens audit committee can examine local government spending including:
- exploring outsourcing
- monitoring the usage of vehicles
- examining salaries and benefits of employees
- evaluating services
- assessing whether insurance policies were put out to bid
- assessing cost-sharing of benefits with part-time employees
Since 2010, the Illinois Policy Institute has been promoting local government transparency through our Local Transparency Project and 10-Point Transparency Checklist. But if citizens really want to make an impact in addressing their sky-high property tax burdens from local governments they must go much further than promoting online transparency
Forming a citizens audit committee is an essential next step, after transparency, towards promoting a leaner, more efficient and less corrupt local government that saves taxpayers money.