Charlottesville’s participatory budgeting program has lost momentum, but let’s hope it doesn’t coast to a full stop.
Participatory budgeting allows residents to discuss needs and vote on allocating public money for those needs.
Participatory budgeting authority often focuses on specific projects or individual neighborhoods as a way to involve residents for whom the existing process is inaccessible and abstruse.
It also is considered more democratic because it pushes decision-making authority closer to the voters, taxpayers and other residents.
However, two staff members who were leading the city’s participatory budget initiative are among those who have resigned since a new city manager came on board in May. Citizen membership of the planning group also is in flux.
Meanwhile, Charlottesville had hired a consultant for $5,600 to design the participatory budgeting process; that work has been completed.
The planning group already had picked the Ridge Street neighborhood as its test site, because the community had been hindered from advancing its ideas to City Council by its lack of a consistent neighborhood association.
The city already had set aside $100,000 for residents to spend.
Originally, they were to have begun the process of generating ideas in August of this year. Final decisions would have been made by next April.
But with the loss of city leadership, the pilot program has been put on hold.
Meanwhile, since the program is delayed, the money will go back into the general budget and be reflected as a surplus. There is no reason to believe that City Council will decline to reallocate the money once the program is up and running again, but such an outcome is not automatic.
Matt Slaats, one of the citizen members of the organizing group, said the delay could be positive if it leads to a better process.
“The city has a lot of history of making promises and — based on the community’s perspective — not following up,” he told The Daily Progress. “We want the community to trust us. So if it takes another year to get the right infrastructure in place, that’s a good decision.”
It’s a shame that the program has lost momentum, but we concur: It’s critical to get things right, especially on this first foray into participatory budgeting. If that requires waiting a year, so be it.
Just as long as the outcome is indeed a postponement — and not a full halt to the program.