Public Engagement in Budgeting Leads to Greater Trust and Transparency
Budgeting is a key responsibility of local governments. Engaging the community can inform the budgeting process and help residents understand the city council’s vision and the hard choices that budgeting entails.
Town of Paradise Engages Community on Sales Tax Measure
The Great Recession that forced cuts to staffing and services significantly impacted the Town of Paradise, like many California cities. The town began exploring options in 2014 to increase revenue and, in turn, town services. One option was a ballot measure (Measure C) calling for a temporary half-cent sales tax increase. If this measure passed, the town council would need to determine how to allocate the funds. In fall 2014 the Paradise Town Council initiated a public engagement effort to gauge resident preferences around four priority budget areas: fire suppression, police services, road maintenance and animal control.
The Institute for Local Government’s (ILG) Public Engagement Program partnered with Paradise on public engagement planning and implementation. Through this effort, the town launched a strategic, outcome-driven resident engagement effort that culminated in three workshops facilitated by ILG. Paradise leaders and staff increased participation at these meetings in three ways. First, they boosted awareness of the meeting by working with local community groups to notify and involve residents. Second, the town increased accessibility by holding the meetings at various times of the day to accommodate people with different schedules. Third, the town built trust by partnering with ILG as a neutral third party to facilitate the workshops.
At the workshops, Paradise staff gave presentations to clarify the impact of:
- Recent budget setbacks on specific services;
- Staffing under the current budget in the short and long term; and
- The half-cent sales tax measure’s potential effect.
Participants were then invited to share feedback on priorities for town services through an informal poll.
The outreach process encouraged participants of all backgrounds and interests to share their concerns, ask questions and engage directly with town leaders and staff. The results pleased the town council and staff; residents with a diverse range of perspectives attended the events, and Measure C passed in the November 2014 election. For more information about this project visit www.ca-ilg.org/paradise.
ILG Budgeting and Financial Management Resources
ILG offers a variety of free resources to local officials and staff to assist with budgeting, financial management and engaging the public in the budgeting process.
Budgeting and financial management can be difficult to master. Financial Management for Elected Officials: Questions to Ask (www.ca-ilg.org/post/financialmanagement) helps elected officials, the media and the public understand the basics of local agency financial planning and management, including what kinds of questions to ask to ensure good practices are being followed.
ILG’s Budget Tool Box (www.ca-ilg.org/budget-tool-box) outlines a number of tools local officials can use to better engage the public in the budgeting process. These tools include budget education and outreach, surveys, workshops, advisory committees, deliberative forums, participatory budgeting and working with existing neighborhood councils and committees.
For additional resources visit www.ca-ilg.org/budgeting-finance.