By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – A Northeast Mississippi agency’s online posting of county spending records falls short of the transparency sought by the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.
Center President Forest Thigpen said records published on Three Rivers Planning and Development District’s website can’t be searched, sorted or compared like those on SeeTheSpending.org.
The center had launched its website in September so state taxpayers could follow county spending habits. Users can search by county, vendor, spending category or fund. And they can compare spending among the different counties.
Three Rivers this month posted to its website detailed general ledgers and vendor lists of the 10 counties for which it provides technical assistance. Those counties, along with five others, have been missing from the center’s statewide database.
That’s because Three Rivers doesn’t store its information in the flat-file format needed for the database. The agency told the center it would charge $5,800 to write a new software program and $3,500 to train county officials to use it.
But Thigpen said that’s too expensive and claimed Three Rivers’ rates far exceed those charged by other county database managers. Bell disagreed, saying it had based its fees on those charged by Delta Computer Systems of Biloxi.
Bell said Delta, which handles several county records, charged roughly $7,000. A Delta representative didn’t return a call to the Daily Journal for comment.
Bell also said Three Rivers offered to charge its normal hourly rate but couldn’t estimate how long it would take to write the program. In the end, the costs could be much higher. Thigpen said it’s not a viable option.
It’s unclear if the two entities will strike a deal. In the meantime, the public can visit both websites to find the spending records they seek.