DC Government budget transparency – What’s up with all the fees?

Ever wonder how much DC Government collects in “Out of state Vehicle Registration Fees”?. What about the “Underground Storage Tank Fines and Fees”? Library Fines? What about the proceeds from busting illegal gambling and narcotics operations? Where does this money go? What services does it fund?
Now you can research this and other similar information on “Special Purpose Revenues” in the newly released module within CFOINFO (cfoinfo.dc.gov)
Special Purpose Revenue are fees, fines, and other types of collections by the government that are dedicated to serve a pre-determined purpose. An example of these special purposes is the “Anacostia River Cleanup Fund” managed by the District Department of the Environment, paid for in part by the DC bag tax. Or the “Recorder of Deeds Surcharge” managed by the Office of Tax and Revenue. These collections can only be used within the same agency and department. These fees and collections offset the need to generate more revenue through increased taxes.
So where does this money go? It pays for everything from salaries of employees to provide public services, to non-personnel costs such as contracts, systems, equipment and supplies supporting these programs.
For the first time, you can now research this information online, in detail, via the interactive CFOINFO dashboard. The new “special purpose revenue” module is designed to look similar to the “Operating Budgets” module. However, it focuses solely on special purpose revenue: Where it comes from, and where it goes. The Summary tab outlines the data in graphical, interactive format. The “Details” tab allows for viewing and researching the data through drill down tables.
We are working to add the same data into our iPhone app, and it will be available within the next week.
Check out some screen shots and send us your questions and feedback. We always love to hear from you.

1) District-wide, Special Purpose Revenues account for about $509M in budgeted collections for FY2011, which is a reduction from $529M in FY2010. That is a lot of money that would otherwise result in higher taxes

2) In the example above, the “Out of State Vehicle Registration” fee is budgeted to generate $378,800 in FY2011, under the “Vehicle Services Program” within the DC DMV. Actual collections can be seen by drilling down on the FY2008 and FY2009 data. Motor Vehicle Inspections is budgeted to generate another $5.8M for the same program

3) Where does the money go? Lets look at the same program for the same agency (Vehicle Services Program” within the DC DMV. All special purpose revenue collected for this program (such as inspection station fees), is budgeted to be spent in a variety of ways, including $2.23M in salaries, $197K in supplies, and $2.138M in Contractual Services. Note that these budgeted expenditures can only directly support this program, such as the personnel, contracts, supplies and equipment supporting the vehicle inspection stations.

4) What is the biggest source of these revenues? Looking at the same agency (DC DMV), it is clear that the biggest source of special purpose revenues agency wide is “Motor vehicle inspection station”. For FY2011, this source of revenue is budgeted to generate $7.35M

5) Where are the biggest expenditures from such fees and fines? Again, for the DC DMV, we can see that the biggest areas of expenditures are Salaries ($2.3M), Services and Charges (such as maintenance, etc.) ($3.48M) and Contractual Services ($2.75M).

6) Detailed tabular reports are also available, allowing drill down analysis, exporting raw data into CSV/PDF/XLS formats, and interactive slicing and dicing of information.

We hope that this new module will provide District taxpayers and others who are interested, a unique window of transparency into the government’s collection of fees, fines and other charges, and which programs these collections help support and how. We will continue to refine CFOINFO and continue to look for your feedback.

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Nichole Henley

While I applaud DC’s efforts to put that money to some really great use…I have to think back to the times when my husband and I (separately) have been fined for parking “violations”— which were $200+ a piece. Just don’t be so hasty to hand out fines just to fund one of the actions above, is all that I ask!! 🙂

Sonny Hashmi

Thanks for the feedback Nichole. I do sympathize and recognize that such fees and fines are not always welcome. However, such collections support vital public services in every jurisdiction. Our intent is to ensure that all such collections are transparent, along with their intended use. Through transparency, taxpayers can effectively and informatively decide if their government is doing the right thing on their behalf through the use of such funds.

Good luck and thanks again for visiting and providing feedback