FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — NOV 7, 2012 –
It’s an experiment that’s been tried out, so far, in Brazil, New York City and Chicago. It just started in Vallejo. And it would be good for West Sacramento, too.
“PB” could work for both the local city government and the school district. Through participatory budgeting, community members would be invited to suggest how to spend a small part of the city or school budget – perhaps using it for small, hyper-local projects that benefit their local neighborhoods. These smaller budget amounts might not go far if spread across the city, but they could have definite local impact if they’re used to fix something or to build something small on a neighborhood-specific basis.
“PB” starts with neighborhood brainstorming sessions. In each local session, citizens choose their favorite ideas, and volunteers then turn them into proposals.
The city council and school board then choose which proposals to fund. In West Sacramento, the city and WUSD might, for example, earmark specific lumps of money for use in each of a half-dozen neighborhood areas.
For practial reasons, we’re just talking about a small part of the whole budget for the city and the schools. The city council and school board would, of course, continue to make the big decisions about the vast majority of their respective budgets. Direct community input would just be invited for a limited “discretionary” part of the expenditures.
How might a grassroots effort choose to spend the money in West Sacramento?
When the PB community meetings began in New York City, one group was persuaded to support the humble goal of renovating the bathrooms in a local public school – bathrooms in which there was currently no room to put doors on the toilet stalls. Also on the table were discussions about security cameras in public places, new stop signs, parks projects and youth programs.
It was a great opportunity to fix some “little” problems. Websites and neighborhood assemblies fueled the idea-fest – not everyone had to go to a community meeting to submit an idea.
Aside from focusing money on small-but-important projects, the process has another attractive benefit: it’s a great way to get people involved with their local government.
Let people help make decisions on something small and hyper-local, and you may encourage them to stay in touch with their city and school district leaders.
After all, an involved community is a healthy community.
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Copyright News-Ledger 2012