Participatory Budgeting Returns to Rochester

by Susan Hopkins, AICP 
For For practitioners of public engagement, the chance to experience participatory budgeting is what I imagine it’s like for a classic car enthusiast to drive a 1967 Mustang Shelby, for hippies to go to Burning Man, or to find a Mickey Mantle baseball card in your attic. In other words, it’s the holy grail. And participatory budgeting is about as close as a process can get towards truly empowering a community to make decisions about how to spend public dollars.

The Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI) has teamed up with the Participatory Budgeting Project and will use this process to decide how best to allocate up to $200,000 granted through the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative. RMAPI and the Participatory Budgeting Project hosted an introductory meeting on April 18, where we learned about the fundamentals of participatory budgeting and even got to try out the process.
Participatory budgeting (PB) is a different way to manage public money, and to engage people in government. It is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. It enables taxpayers to work with government to make the budget decisions that affect their lives.​–The Participatory Budgeting Project
While the concept is not entirely new to many Rochesterians, it was helpful to get an overview and a practice run. After explaining how the process works, our facilitator, Melissa, from the Participatory Budgeting Project, pulled a $20 bill out of her purse and told us we were going to use the participatory budgeting process to decide where the money should be donated. She grouped us together into smaller groups and asked each group to develop a “proposal” about where the money should go. We picked a charitable organization and explained why we thought it was the best place to donate the $20. Each group then presented their proposal, after which everyone voted on their top three proposals. The $20 went to the winning proposals, which were for Teen Empowerment and Ticket to Ride.It was a fun meeting—I can’t wait to see this process in action in the coming months.

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