Project Toto aims to address questions regarding city finances

NICKI PADAR / AGGIE

Davis residents create financial model to make city’s financial state more transparent

To increase transparency between the city’s financial situation and the community, three residents created a model called Project Toto which aims to improve how the city communicates its finances in an easily accessible design.

Jeff Miller and Matt Williams, who are members of Davis’ Finance and Budget Commission, joined together with Davis entrepreneur Bob Fung to create the model plan to bring the project to the Finance and Budget Commission in February, according to Kelly Stachowicz, assistant city manager.

“City staff appreciate the efforts that have gone into this, and the interest in trying to look at the city’s potential financial position over the long term,” Stachowicz said in an email interview. “We all have a shared goal to plan for a sound fiscal future with few surprises. We believe the Project Toto effort will mesh well with our other efforts as we build the budget for the next fiscal year and beyond.”

Project Toto complements the city’s effort to amplify the transparency of city decisions to community members. The aim is to increase the understanding about the city’s financial situation and make the information more accessible and easier to understand.

The project is mostly a tool for public education, but can also make predictions about potential decisions regarding the city’s financial future. Once completed, the program will allow residents to manipulate variables to see their eventual consequences, such as tax increases or extensions and proposed developments

“This really isn’t a budget, it is a forecast to see the intervention of these decisions,” Williams said in an interview with The Davis Enterprise. “What happens if we extend the sales tax? What does it do given the other numbers that are in?”

Project Toto enables users, whether it be a curious Davis resident, a concerned community member or a city leader, with the ability to project city finances with differing variables.

The online program consists of the 400-page city budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, the previous budget, staff reports and consultant analyses. All of the documents are cited and accessible to the public within Project Toto.

“It’s a model that very easily lends itself to visual representation,” Mayor Robb Davis said. “You can see the impacts of decisions the council makes on the fiscal health of the city.”

Complementary to this program, there is also a more advanced version of the model with more in-depth analyses of the city’s finances. However, for an easy-to-understand, simplistic overview, Project Toto should be enough to help residents comprehend Davis finances.

There is still more to do on the project, but its creators are hard at work trying to finalize it before the 2017-2018 fiscal year budget.

“It’s something I have been very much supportive of,” Davis said. “Transparency is not just something that I have been supportive of but something we have stated as a city council objective […] this fits very well with our attempt to inform the public of our challenges with our fiscal situation.”

Written By: Bianca Antunez  — city@theaggie.org