Participatory Budgeting Greensboro seeks to put money in citizens’ hands

By Laura Hay, Staff Writer

Have you ever wanted a say in how the city of Greensboro spends its tax dollars?

If Participatory Budgeting Greensboro is successful in getting the city council’s approval, you soon will.

According to the Participatory Budgeting Project website, participatory budgeting allows community members to directly decide how to spend part of a city’s public budget. Residents work with government to make the budget decisions that affect their lives.

The model has been successfully used in over 1,200 cities worldwide, including Toronto, Chicago, and Porto Alegre, Brazil.  Participatory Budgeting Greensboro is currently trying to make the PB model a reality by bringing the process to Greensboro and possibly surrounding areas.

Screen Shot 2013-03-01 at 2.50.53 PM
Map of Participatory Budgeting projects around the globe. Image from http://nicoleskibolaesq.wordpress.com/.  Sorry, this isn’t an interactive map… fooled you!

If participatory budgeting is implemented, how will it work?

“What it comes down to is that people get to decide where the money goes,” said Alyzza May ’10, who has been actively involved with Participatory Budgeting Greensboro’s work.

When citizens decide on a project or improvement they’d like to see, a proposal is submitted, the idea is researched, and city staff conducts a feasibility study to determine costs. Once costs are estimated, they can be placed on the ballot for voter approval. The group is also requesting one percent of the city budget, which is 4.5 million, for allocation for the program.

In order for the model to become a reality, the Greensboro City Council must approve it with a majority vote.

PB Greensboro originally brought a proposal before the city council in 2011 as well as in January 2013.  A final presentation will be made in May.

Group treasurer Larry Morse seems optimistic that the council will approve the program since the ideas they have for Greensboro are similar to those citizens have.

“Some of what we’re proposing is in line with that they were planning. I also think that staffs at the city level have been accepting of the idea,” Morse said.

PB Greensboro is using Chicago and New York as models for what will hopefully become Greensboro’s program, said ac Russell. However, the programs in Chicago and New York only involve certain districts, whereas Greensboro’s will involve the entire city. If the proposal for participatory budgeting is accepted, Greensboro will become the first city in the United States to implement it on a citywide basis.

“It’s always risky being the first (to implement a new program),” said May.

One question on many supporters’ minds is how the program will affect the city and surrounding areas once it’s in place.

“One outcome could be a greater sense of participation in local government, not just in the budgeting process. If we have it, it might affect how the two municipalities (of Greensboro and High Point) collaborate. There might be more input,” said Morse.

“We hope that after it goes well in Greensboro, that the amount of money (allocated) would increase and (the program) would expand to the county level,” said Vincent Russell, acting president of PB Greensboro.

The group is also hoping that once participatory budgeting is implemented, future city council members will continue to support it.

“It seems like things are really moving right now. You never know how the political climate will shift, but right now there’s defiantly a lot of support in the community and at least sufficient support in council to keep moving forward implementing this process,” said PB Greensboro volunteer, Andrew Trump.

If you are interested in participatory budgeting and want to get involved in Greensboro, the group always welcomes new members and supporters, and can be contacted through their website.

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