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City opens up its checkbook with a brand new web feature

The “Open Checkbook” website lets the public track most city expenses, from individual contracts with private vendors to power bills, office supplies, and more. Payroll figures will not be included, but that information is available elsewhere on the city’s website.

“Basically, it’s a virtual check register,” Mayor David J. Narkewicz told the City Council last week.

The feature enables residents to filter results by selecting a category, such as general government, public safety or schools, and specific departments within that category. People can also sort by date range. The data, to be updated every Friday, covers fiscal 2014 and forward. There is a category for the city’s enterprise funds, but that feature is not yet active.

Ward 6 City Council Marianne L. LaBarge, who lobbied the mayor to add an “Open Checkbook” to the city’s website, believes the feature will be valued by residents in all wards.

“I think it really opens up the transparency and communications for the taxpayers in the city,” LaBarge said.

Massachusetts unveiled a similar concept at the end of 2011 as part of Gov. Deval Patrick’s goal of making state government more transparent and accessible to taxpayers. Several other communities in the state, including Amherst last June, have launched their own versions.


DPW roads scholar

The Department of Public Works has its very own roads scholar now that Highway Superintendent Richard Parasiliti has completed requirements to earn the ranking.

Parasiliti joins other public works officials in the state who have achieved roads scholar status by completing seven, full-day continuing education workshops and seminars held by the Baystate Roads Program. He hopes to next achieve the rank of master roads scholar.

Baystate Roads Program, also known as the Local Technical Assistance Program, is a national effort of the Federal Highway Administration designed to improve access to highway, road and street technology for local municipalities. The state Department of Transportation manages the program out of the UMass Transportation Center in Amherst.


Tax talk on tap

If you like pizza and talking about taxes, then Yes!Northampton has an event for you on Wednesday.

Three months after hosting a tax forum that featured several key state legislators, the organization is bringing in a senior policy analyst from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center to highlight its second forum of the year. Kurt Wise is expected to talk about the state tax system and its impact on essential services.

Wise’s presentation will be followed by a discussion about what Northampton can do to make the state tax system more fair and responsive to the needs of the city.

The two-hour forum at the Florence Civic Center, 90 Park St., begins with pizza at 6:30 p.m. Child care will be provided.


Swap shop nears home

The city is nearing the day when it will have a permanent swap shop center.

A pair of members from the Department of Public Works’ Reuse Committee told the City Council last week that the committee plans to submit a proposal this spring to open a shop at the old landfill on Glendale Road.

The idea behind the swap shop is to reuse items rather than having them end up in a landfill. The Reuse Committee has hosted many events over the last few years aimed at making it easier for residents to reuse items they no longer need, and it has been working for some time to find a permanent home for such a center.

In related news, the council last week agreed to establish a revolving fund in which Reuse supporters can use to keep and spend money they raise in the form of contributions, grants and sponsorships. No city funds will go into the fund, which is capped at $10,000. The money raised will allow the committee to buy supplies, advertise city-sponsored tag sales, swap meets and other events, and other related expenses.

Upcoming events include a spring recycling rally this Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at Smith Vocational High School, 80 Locust St.

The event will feature recycling of large pieces of white Styrofoam and plastic bags from wood pellets. Document shredding will also be available.

Additionally, a community tag sale and swap meet is scheduled for April 26.

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