Opinion

A digital frontier for city budget

The sleeve photo looks like a vocal ensemble, maybe The Kitsap Trio.

Ergo, the joke making the rounds among those in the picture, the fine ladies of the Kitsap County Commission – Chris Endresen, Jan Angel and Patty Lent:

“It’s our first CD!”

In truth, there’s not a note of music on the disc, but by Endresen’s account it is a minor hit nonetheless. Distributed earlier this year, it contains the 2003-04 Kitsap County Biennial Budget Book – all 208 pages, including appendices and the inevitable smattering of “This Page Intentionally Left Blank.” The document is in PDF format, viewable with the ubiquitous Acrobat computer software.

We concede that most folks will never turn to a public agency’s budget for leisure reading, unless they’re plagued by particularly intransigent insomnia. But we found ourselves drawn in by the county budget disc, its copious annotation on the hows and whys of revenue and spending, the colorful bar graphs, and enough pie charts to start a bakery.

Endresen said the county public works department started the trend, using the CD-ROM format to distribute information on recycling and other programs. Putting the budget – the county’s first-ever two-year document, as it turns out – on CD followed naturally, especially since citizens previously had to cough up something like $30 for a bound copy to cover printing costs.

Which gave rise to the thought that as our mayor, finance director and council get under way on Bainbridge Island’s 2004 budget, we can see a certain appeal to publishing the city document (certainly the final budget, if not the equally hefty preliminary sheets) in the popular digital format of CD-ROM. For one thing, the cost is low – you can burn discs for pennies these days, compared to the expense of printing and binding a document that last year came in at nearly 200 pages. (A Seattle-area duplication service currently charges $595 for a 500-disc run, plus 10 cents each for paper sleeves.)

Too, it might be a good way to get the budget into wider

circulation; folks disinclined to wade through a bound copy might plug one into the ol’ disc drive for a spin, to find out where their tax money is going. (What don’t we read on computers these days?) Perhaps after all of our local agencies – schools, parks, fire – adopt their annual budgets, those documents could be compiled on a single disc for reference.

To be sure, council members and some others would still find utility in a few bound copies for toting to meetings and scribbling notes in the margins. Then again, who doesn’t own a computer printer?

Our city has been been honored repeatedly over the past decade for clarity of presentation in its budget document. Perhaps CD-ROM is the next step. Something to think about, anyway.

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