Johnson County budget process to modernize with new software

Out with the budget books and in with the colorful charts.

The Johnson County Council and Board of Commissioners approved last week a contract with ClearGov, a Maryland-based company that focuses on local government budget software.

ClearGov gave a presentation on the software to the council in April, but members decided to compare ClearGov to a competitor before moving forward. The software contract approval came back up at a special meeting last week, when the council approved it and sent it to the commissioners for their approval at their meeting the same day. Both bodies did so unanimously.

Johnson County is among the first in Indiana to use the company’s budgetary software, but according to their website, ClearGov serves 1,100 communities around the United States. The software is already in use in Scott County, Indiana, for example.

The software also has been endorsed by the National Association of Counties.

For the upcoming budget year 2025, the software will be used side-by-side with the county’s current budget books. The budget books would go away starting in 2026, with the county solely using ClearGov.

A contract was approved for a total amount of $137,266.14, with a price of $26,512.50 for 2024, $33,756.25 for 2025, $37,929.75 for 2026 and $39,067.64 for 2027. The price also includes training for employees who will need to know how to use the software, including the council, the auditor’s office and county department heads.

The county has a 90-day cancellation period within which the contract could be canceled and money refunded. After the one-year trial and subsequent three-year contract periods, officials will choose whether they would like to continue using the software for another contract period, said Adam Gadberry, county attorney.

A lot of research went into the process before bringing the proposal to the council in April, with Johnson County Auditor Elizabeth Alvey, Deputy Auditor Amy Thompson, and former auditor and current council president Pam Burton being key players in the effort.

Ryan Wilson, a ClearGov representative, gave a presentation to the council in April. Among the selling points was the ability to immediately make changes and the new freedom and flexibility the council would have to game out scenarios that come up all the time during budget time.

For example, it will give the council freedom to plug in different things such as wage and health care cost increases to see how it would impact the budget for years to come. The council can also plug in the cost of a new employee — a common request at budget time — to immediately determine if the county can afford to add this new person to staff in the long term.

Wilson said ClearGov will work well with current financial software, allowing a seamless transfer of information from that software to ClearGov at budget time. County officials say this will simplify the process of budgeting, which currently requires the auditor’s office to manually transfer data. Manually transferring the data can introduce errors, which take some time to fix, Alvey said.

“It’s going to eliminate the spreadsheet errors and streamline the budget process. It’s gonna be very helpful,” Alvey said. “Everything’s going to be on the computer, so we’re not going to have the big books. And if we do need to change things or the department head needs to change things, it’s going to be an immediate thing we’ll be able to see instead of waiting for it to update.”

The current process is so time-consuming the auditor’s office has to bring in a part-time worker to help at budget time. That wouldn’t be needed anymore, officials said.

The council now sees the budget in the form of a long exported spreadsheet, whereas the software would allow them to see it as colorful charts and graphs. This new view will allow them to more easily analyze how the county is spending money now and how it could be spent over time.

“It’s going to give us a better view of all of these numbers that we have to deal with when we’re going through the budget process,” said council member Jonathan T. Myers. “It’s really like you can’t see the forest for the trees and trees for the forest. This is gonna give us executive summaries and bar charts and graphs, pie charts that will clarify our viewpoint that will help us make informed decisions.”

The public view of the budget is also expected to be much more user-friendly, with a view of the county’s revenue, expenditures, capital improvement plan and more right at their fingertips on the county website. Right now, the public can only view the budget as a PDF, which has many pages and can be hard for a layperson to understand.

County officials say this is a long time coming.

“Our system that we have been using for many, many years is so antiquated, outdated and labor intensive,” said council member Melinda Griesemer. “This should have happened a long time ago.”