Newspapers key to public-records access

Willcox Range News
Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Arizona State Statutes have long required city and county budgets to be posted as legal notices in newspapers of general circulation. State Legislators have added requirements over the years to increase the public’s access to city finances.

In 2010, state lawmakers added a requirement to post tentative budgets of towns, cities or counties on county, city or town websites. In 2011, lawmakers required that tentative city budgets be posted within seven days of their adoption on city websites (or the website of the Arizona League of Cities and Towns if the city or town does not have an official website), and final budgets be posted on city websites within seven days of adoption.

While this is a good thing, there seems to be little oversight on the requirements.

The Arizona Tax Research Association (ATRA), an organization representing state taxpayers, both individuals and businesses, with a goal of efficient statewide government and the effective use of tax dollars through sound fiscal policies, looked into city and town compliance of the requirements.

The ATRA’s report in their August 2013 newsletter notes, “On the seventh business day following the last day to adopt the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 tentative budget (3rd Monday in July), 38 of Arizona’s 91 cities and towns had no budgets posted to their websites.”

Some of the websites also failed to post final budgets from 2012 and 2013, despite the fact that they are required to leave those budgets posted for five years.
The newsletter said, “ATRA’s efforts to secure the budget information directly from city and town administrators resulted in a myriad of responses for the lack of budget documents on city websites but many simply professed ignorance of a statute passed three years ago.”

For the record, the City of Willcox was not one of those cities to ignore state requirements, as even Fiscal Year 2010 budget is still accessible on the city’s website,

However, any city or town that does not post budgets on their websites in a timely manner, particularly during the tentative budget stage, fails to give the public adequate access to have a say in its adoption – if there were no requirements for publication in newspapers of general circulation.

Ironically, state legislators in recent years have tried to pass laws that would remove the requirement of publishing budgets and other government public notices in a newspaper, replacing that with only a requirement to publish on a website, citing decreased cost for the government.

The spotty performance on the part of cities and towns in abiding by the statutory requirements for publishing proposed budgets should make those state lawmakers question their proposals.

Publishing in a newspaper is a verifiable historic record that websites can not replicate.

While websites may be cheaper for Uncle Sam, the cost to the We the People would be immeasurable.