Platform that connects taxes to local government spending wins PNA and Webjunto’s #OpenGov Hackathon

  • Apr 23, 2015

Nikki Rhoads, Communications Director

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (April 23, 2015) —The team that created TaxBackPHL.com as part of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association and Webjunto’s April 21 #OpenGov Hackathon at Philly Tech Week walked away with the first place prize of $1,000.

Hackathon participants were tasked with creating the best piece of media that increases or improves transparency in government. Projects could be presented in a variety of forms – from apps to websites to social media  – anything to create the most compelling case to the widest possible audience in support of tracking the spending of tax dollars and understanding the actions of government agencies. Teams partnered with web developers and designers from Webjunto to help their ideas come to fruition.

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The TaxBackPHL.com project focused on using open data to correlate local tax collection to government spending in Philadelphia. The easy-to-use website would allow citizens to see how their tax dollars are being spent in their local areas, as well as the percentage of tax income that is being spent in a variety of categories, from education to infrastructure.

Users of TaxBackPHL.com would simply have to enter their local address or school district, and with one click, they would be shown a number of charts and graphs with information on how their taxes are being spent locally. Users would also have the opportunity to compare expenditures in their local area to other communities.

“The TaxBackPHL project was well thought-out, had broad appeal and certainly has the potential to increase government transparency and accountability,” said PNA President Teri Henning, who was part of a judging panel that also included the Sunlight Foundation’s Bob Lannon and Comcast’s Paul Wright.

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The two other teams competing in the hackathon also produced top-notch projects. One team created PORT (Pennsylvania Open Records Tracker), a website that would help journalists and citizens track their Right to Know requests. The PORT team recognized that tracking multiple requests with complex timelines can be a challenge. Their website featured a request form for Right to Know inquiries, which would link to the user’s email, as well as a calendar to help users keep track of multiple requests and appeals.

The third team created TIF Tracker to help increase transparency in economic development projects financed by taxpayer money. Tax increment financing (TIF) is used to finance projects in blighted areas. The TIF Tracker web tool would help journalists and the public ensure that TIF districts live up to their promises and hold both government agencies and developers accountable. The website would include projections and actual data on the costs and benefits of a TIF project, the number of jobs created, and before and after photos of the area.

“We still face the issue of making government data easy to access and comprehend for both professionals and the public at large,” said Lannon. “Events like this are great because a diverse group of people come out – from lawyers to journalists to developers – and they all get to use their expertise to work towards the same overarching goal. When you get a group of people together with varying viewpoints and backgrounds, that’s when some really great ideas develop.”

The April 21 event featured more than 30 registered participants, and was held at Interstate General Media headquarters in Philadelphia, home of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com and was sponsored in part by Calkins Media and the Philadelphia Gay News. The event was kicked off by representatives of the co-sponsoring organizations and included remarks by Terry Mutchler of Pepper Hamilton LLC and former executive director of the Office of Open Records.

For more photos of the event, visit PNA's Flickr.

About the PNA:
The PNA, founded in 1925, is the nonprofit trade association for print and digital news media in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Its mission is to advance the business interests of Pennsylvania news media companies and to promote a free and independent press. It has more than 300 newspaper and media members, including daily, weekly, and college newspapers and online publications. To learn more, visit www.panewsmedia.org.

About Webjunto:
Webjunto, located in Philadelphia, is a team of designers, developers, thinkers and doers. Webjunto works with startups, nonprofits and others to design user experiences, develop web and mobile solutions and provide overall digital strategy. To learn more, visit www.webjunto.com.

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