We kicked off the City’s next budget preparation process at our June 7 Work Session with the City Council. One of the Council’s priorities in this year’s process: public participation.
How to do it? That’s the question.
I think the Council wants public participation in the City’s budget process because they believe that participation has the potential to make our budget process better, which has the potential to make our end product – a 2012 City Budget – better.
I also believe that public participation in our budget preparation process has the potential to add value to our end product budget. Public participation also has the potential to add no value to our budget process, or to steer it in a direction that it ought not to go. So while I think it’s easy (and truthful) to say that public participation in the City’s budget process is inherently good, it’s not as accurate to say that it will inherently produce a better outcome.
The secret to channeling potential into a better outcome is in the process itself. How do we get the public involved? When do we get the public involved? Where do we get the public involved? These are three key questions that we’re working on right now.
Let’s take a look at one of the questions: How do we get the public involved? Should we mail everyone in Edina a copy of the 2011 budget and ask them for their thoughts on how they’d update it for 2012? That sounds expensive (postage), passive (no context for the public) and not very likely to be effective. Should we put a copy of the 2011 budget online and ask people to email us copies? That sounds less expensive, but just as passive and about as effective as the previous option?
Should we have a Town Hall meeting and take comments on what people want to see in the 2012 compared to 2011? We could use the face-to-face opportunity to share some context about personnel costs, tax revenue receipts, financial trend analysis, etc. But long would it take to first educate someone about the budget and then draw out their informed opinion? A couple of hours? A couple of days? Probably somewhere in between those two.
In the end, I think we’re looking for something that incorporates elements of all of what I just said. We’ll likely have a meeting (or two or three) of some kind in which people that work for the City can talk about our budgeting process and what we need to do to produce a legally adoptable budget for our city. We’ll want to supply people who plan to come to that meeting with information in advance of the meeting, and we will need the participants to do their homework before they come. Then, we’ll need to do some work online to hone the opinions and information we got in our face-to-face meetings.
That process description sounds kind of vague right now. It is kind of vague right now. I’m looking for ideas. If you know of a city government that employs a good model for public participation in the budget preperation process, email me and let me know about it. I’ll check it out. I am in the research phase right now, but I’ve got to get something in place by the middle of July. Ideas ideas ideas. If you’ve got some, I’ll take’em.