Making decisions with a group is no easy task. Deciding with friends and family on what to have for breakfast or what to do Friday night is not always a seamless decision, much less how a government of “We the People” try to decide on how health care services should be regulated or what industries need subsidies to increase meaningful economic development. Nevertheless, they are decisions just the same and benefit from open participation from all members.
PB, or Participatory Budgeting, is the democratic process by which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. This process actively engages community members to provide ideas, create project proposals, and ultimately decide on which projects will be funded and implemented. This process brings to the forefront the idea of government as “We the People.”
The City of Niagara Falls, through the Community Development Department (NF CD), has begun a participatory budgeting process that is now entering the voting stage. PB360, a program that allocates $360,000 in funds from the 2017 Community Development Block Grant provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is an effort to decide on how we want to invest in our public parks.
Parks are perhaps our most accessible public spaces, and therefore deserve to be improved and enhanced, based on the needs of our community. In recent years, NF CD has invested in local parks, from the new Niagara Falls Skate Park to improved playground sets and beautification efforts throughout the city-wide parks system. While NF CD has made a concerted effort over the last several years to seek as much public input as possible, PB360 gives the last word to you, the citizens of Niagara Falls.
Throughout the month of August, residents will have the opportunity to vote on 10 ballot items that were created by residents through public brainstorming sessions held in June. NF CD staff looked at the proposals that received the most support, evaluated their eligibility for Community Development Block Grant funds, sought alternative sources of funding in cases where Community Development Block Grants could not be used, and eliminated proposals that were already underway. Cost estimates were then obtained for the remaining ten items.
Once voting is complete, the ideas will be ranked from most to least support. Projects will be implemented, starting at the top and moving down the list, until all $360,000 has been exhausted.
The vote will be taken to where residents interact with public spaces: community events, city parks, and public buildings at various times and dates throughout the month, and is open to all city residents, regardless of age. PB360 is direct participation in democracy – real people making real decisions that implement real projects.
We hope that you will join us in bringing all community members together to voice their opinion in an open participation format for the benefit of our shared parks system.
So, take this opportunity to be part of the process. Take this opportunity to cast your vote. Take this opportunity to be “We the People” so that “We the People” can better share in the place that we are proud to call home.
Jarrett Steffen is a staff member at Niagara Falls Community Development and resident of Niagara Falls. For more information on PB360, please visit nf-cd.org/pb360.