STATE – More than a third of New Jersey’s independent local authorities do not operate a website and just three percent post their financial reports online, according to a report released today by the Office of the State Comptroller
The report catalogs the state’s 587 local authorities and commissions to analyze the level of online transparency they offer. According to the report, the local agencies combine to spend $5 billion annually and incurred billions more in debt, yet offer little public transparency.
“When you have so many different government units spending public dollars, it becomes difficult for even the most attentive members of the public to monitor how their money is being spent,” State Comptroller Matthew Boxer said. “Too often the public never hears about these local agencies until scandals unfold. But we pay for these agencies every day – when we pay tolls, when we pay our water bills and when we pay our property taxes.”
The comptroller’s office report recommends that all local agencies establish a website that includes:
- detailed agency financial information
- a description of the agency’s mission and responsibilities
- basic contact information, including the name and phone number of at least one official responsible for the agency’s actions
- and a schedule of the agency’s meeting dates, agendas for future public meetings and the minutes of prior meetings.
“For too long, many local authorities and commissions in New Jersey have acted like private clubs, publicizing agency information only when it suits their needs,” Boxer said. “New Jersey residents are entitled to information about the operations of all of the government entities they fund – and those government entities must do a better job of providing the public with access to that information.”
The local agencies catalogued in the report include improvement authorities, sewerage authorities, pollution control authorities, utilities authorities, parking authorities, bridge commissions, water commissions, redevelopment authorities, port authorities, fire districts, housing authorities, joint insurance funds, urban enterprise zone development corporations, regional health commissions, county parks commissions, workforce investment boards and soil conservation districts. The report noted that the state averages one government unit for every 3.8 square miles.
Along with the report, the comptroller’s office announced the creation of a “transparency portal” that offers one-stop access to the available websites of more than 1,900 government entities operating in the state, including the 587 local authorities and commissions, 604 school districts and 566 municipalities.
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