Ross Currier has been sending me links to information about how other cities have tried to increase citizen participation in budgeting. Would any of these work in Northfield?
Freiburg, Germany:In 2008, the Freiburg city government invited citizens to participate via a website with discussion forums, wikis, and “the budget slider.” While keeping the total budget within 2008 limits, citizens could move the sliders in 22 budget areas. So, if a person increased spending in one area, they would be required to economize in others. The slide approach was also used right here in Minnesota before the 2008 election by Minnesota Public Radio with its Budget Balancer. MPR provided Gov. Pawlenty’s proposed state budget as a starting point.
Santa Cruz, CA: The city built a website where citizens
could see visual representations of how proposed budgets would be spent and how cuts were translating into lost jobs. But more importantly, the website was interactive. It encouraged citizens to collaborate and participate through polls and comment sections, and it hosted a blog for the Mayor
Also interesting about Santa Cruz – the City’s economic development director was the person out publicizing this approach; Northfield has not attempted to involve economic development staff in budget discussions beyond departmental issues. And, if you look at the Santa Cruz budget fund balance projections, they have fees for a much wider array of services/amenities than Northfield: parking fees, traffic congestion control fees, traffic impact fees by area of the city, park fees, clean river and beach fees.
Even if citizens are willing, is there Council buy-in and, more importantly, staff interest/ability/commitment to innovations like this? I don’t think so, but I’d love to be proved wrong about this.