How would you spend $60,000 in the city?
That’s the question the City of Victoria is posing to residents as part of a participatory budgeting process to get people involved in decision-making within the municipality.
As part of the pilot project, residents decide how and on what projects they want to spend $60,000 of the city’s 2017 budget on. Funding will apply to the community as a whole, and not one specific neighbourhood.
Mayor Lisa Helps said the city has been doing lots of public engagement on the budget over the years and this project takes that one step further, allowing the public to tell the city what to do.
“It is to really mirror what other places have been doing as early as the 1980s, in terms of empowering citizens to actually make decisions on the budget,” she said. “It builds capacity in the public to understand the decisions elected officials have to make and for elected officials, it gives us a sense of what the priorities are for the public.”
Participatory budgeting is an idea many North American cities, such as San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and New York, have adopted in recent years, ranging from spending nominal amounts to multi-millions of the cities’ budgets. Toronto, Guelph and Tofino have also adopted participatory budgeting processes for amounts of $450,000, $125,000 and $20,000 respectively.
In Victoria, the regular budget includes funding for crosswalks, and park and underground infrastructure improvements, but Helps is excited to see what projects the public will bring forward.
“I don’t know what the public will come up with and I think that’s part of the reason for doing this, is there something we’re missing as elected officials?” she said, adding whatever the public decides, the city will be bound by that decision.
“If I were a citizen, this would be the kind of thing that I would love. It’s an opportunity to get involved with fellow citizens and it’s an opportunity to do something tangible in the community . . . It’s about participatory democracy.”
The public also has the opportunity to design the process by which they make decisions. For example, in Guelph, residents appoint one person per neighbourhood association and group leaders have to come to a consensus on how the money will be spent.
Projects or investments cannot cancel or delay projects already planned or underway, and the municipality will require that construction or commencement of the project(s) occur within 12 months of the funding decision.
If all goes well this year, Helps hopes to continue the process in the future.
John Treleaven, vice chair of the Grumpy Taxpayers of Greater Victoria, called the process an interesting “experiment.”
“I sincerely hope that Victoria city council is putting as much attention into keeping the budget increase, and therefore the tax increase, to the level of the CPI or below where it hasn’t been for 14 or 15 years,” he said. “That is a serious issue. If they can achieve that and enhance public participation that’s great. There’s a really serious tax issue.”
The participatory budgeting kick off takes place Thursday, Jan. 12 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the foyer of the Atrium Building (800 Yates St.)
For more information visit victoria.ca.