One of the most important actions a government body takes is the passage of a budget. A community’s priorities are reflected in their governmental budgets. In todays economic times budgeting at the local government level is not easy. Tough choices have to be made as to what items receive funding, what items are cut and whether taxes have to be increased.
Obtaining citizen input into government decisions can be difficult, especially when it comes to budgets. Every community typically has a public hearing regarding their local government budget, but usually citizen attendance and involvement at such hearings are poor. Communities need to get creative and try different ways to engage citizens in governmental decisions.
Here are three interesting approaches highlighted in Governing.com, of local governments engaging and encouraging citizen involvement with the budget process.
Hampton Virginia (population 138,000) – City Manager Mary Bunting “…hosts 800-person live events with keypad polling, in addition to conducting online polls, telephone surveys and smaller town hall meetings. Her staff even routinely visits community events, such as soccer club meetings, to connect with citizens who don’t normally attend city meetings. Bunting’s goal: “I wanted [the public] to understand the complexity of the budget and the tradeoffs”.
Seattle (population 620,000) – Mayor Mike McGinn utilizes an interactiveonline game to gauge public support on spending areas, such as public safety and human services. The city had 1,800 unique visitors to a budget web site and 351 people completed a budget simulation that allowed them to express their funding priorities.
Chicago (population 9.8 million) – In Chicago like many other cities, each City Councilmember receives discretionary funding that they control and direct. Most Councilmembers decide where they want their funding spent. Since 2008, Chicago Alderman Joe Moore has engaged the residents of his district by allowing them to vote on how to spend about $1 million of the city’s budget. (The 2012 winners were sidewalk repairs, a new playground, neighborhood murals and more than 100 tree plantings.) Several Councilmembers in New York City are also utilizing the approach undertaken by Chicago Alderman Joe Moore. The Participatory Budgeting Project, a non-profit organization devoted to encouraging citizen participation in government is a great resource for elected and community leaders looking to empower citizens.
Perhaps some of the above ideas can be utilized in your community? What do you think about engaging citizens through these methods?