Some public spending records missing from website

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Eight Northeast Mississippi counties are absent from a new website providing easy access to five years’ worth of public spending, and it could cost the organization behind the effort at least $9,300 to set it straight.
The Mississippi Center for Public Policy launched SeeTheSpending.org on Sept. 13 with the intention of publishing expenditures by each the state’s 81 counties, as well as those by the state itself.
Anyone with Internet access can see how much the state and each available county spent on a variety of goods and services. It also can search by vendor to see which companies did business in which areas and how much they got paid.
“It’s beneficial, because you can see what your local government is doing with your money,” said Mississippi Center of Public Policy President Forest Thigpen.
But as of this week, 17 counties – including the eight in Northeast Mississippi – haven’t yet joined the system. Most say they lack computer software to transport data in the format requested.
“Our counties have been very responsive to providing the information, it just wasn’t in the format they wanted,” said Ronnie Bell of Three Rivers Planning and Development District, which provides technical assistance to 10 of the counties currently not on the website.
“It’s not that any of these 10 counties have just said go fly a kite,” Bell said, adding that all of them agreed to be on the website as soon as the software is available.
The counties are Calhoun, Chickasaw, Itawamba, Kemper, Layfayette, Lee, Monroe, Newton, Oktibbeha and Union.
Thigpen said he understands the dilemma because other counties also lacked the appropriate software. But he said that software now is available and can be obtained for free, so he wonders why Three Rivers wants to charge his organization $9,300.
That’s because the free software isn’t compatible with Three Rivers’ system, Bell said, and the agency must develop its own code to upload data from the 10 counties it represents.
It will charge the public policy center $5,800 to write the program and $350 for each county to install the system and train staff to use it.
“If we did it for free,” Bell said, “we’d be opening the door for everybody who wanted us to reformat our records.”
If Thigpen’s group pays, Three Rivers should have all its counties’ information online by the end of the year, Bell said.
Thigpen said he appreciates the group’s cooperation and will see if there’s a way to lower the price.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com

Go online
www.seethespending.org

Missing counties
Calhoun

Chickasaw

Humphreys

Itawamba

Jackson – coming soon

Jasper

Jefferson

Kemper

Layfayette

Lee

Lowndes

Monroe

Newton

Oktibbeha

Perry

Union

Wayne
* Counties under the Three Rivers Planning and Development District’s computer system.