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26 localities get failing grade on budget access

Saturday - 1/5/2013, 12:28pm  ET

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Nearly one in five Virginia local governments received failing grades in an advocacy group's survey of how easy it is for taxpayers to access their budgets online.

The Virginia Coalition for Open Government released results of its survey of the state's 134 counties and cities Friday. Twenty-six localities received F grades for having extremely limited or no budget data on their websites. Eighteen localities received A grades, led by the city of Fairfax with the only A-plus.

Forty-three localities received B's, 35 got C's and 12 got D's.

"It's our hope that localities and citizens will use this report as a platform from which to launch a discussion about how best to present the budget and other important records," the organization's executive director, Megan Rhyne, wrote in an introduction to the report. "The more sunlight in the Commonwealth, the better."

The organization's review began with a check of how many mouse clicks it takes to get to the locality's budget. The fewer the clicks _ they ranged from one to six _ the higher the score.

But that did not end the analysis. The group then delved into details, including whether documents were searchable by keyword, whether they were available in one document or sections _ or both _ and whether past budgets were available for comparison purposes. The testers also checked for context, explanations and summaries.

Localities that used the word "budget" as hyperlink labels got more credit than those who used less user-friendly terms, like "fiscal plan."

Fairfax city was among a dozen localities that require only one click to get to the budget, the report notes. Fairfax rose above the rest by providing ample easy-to-navigate data.

Most of the localities receiving failing grades were among the state's smallest, although five have populations higher than the state median.



View the report:

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