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Compare and Contrast Municipal Budgets -- Online

TownStats.org is assembling a database of every municipal budget in the Garden State.

A new online project has begun to build a database of every municipal budget in New Jersey, allowing users to see and compare salaries and other expenses across town borders.

The TownStats.org project, funded by two prominent foundations in the state, aims for the first time to put each municipality’s budget and other key information online in an easy-to-read format.

Municipal budgets -- representing about a third of all local property taxes -- are only required to be made available in paper form. The project’s developers and funders said they hope to bring more transparency to local spending and stir more open discussion of cost savings and other economies.

So far, data from 54 municipalities have been input on the TownStats.org site, including the state’s 13 largest and at least two per county. Thirty are to be added each week, developers said, until all 566 are posted, estimated by summer.

The project is being developed by the Independent Center, a new public policy institute, and is funded by the Fund for New Jersey and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. It is also in partnership with the Citizens Campaign.

"This type of project has been needed for a long time," said Chris Daggett, president of the Dodge Foundation and independent candidate for governor in 2009. "If you don’t have the access to government data like this, it’s hard to keep tabs on what’s going on."

Mark J. Magyar, a longtime New Jersey journalist and frequent contributor to NJ Spotlight.com, is among the co-founders of the Independent Center and said he hopes to eventually build the database to include school and county budgets as well.

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