Participatory Budgeting Greensboro Engages New Voices In Democratic Process
Greensboro residents ages 14 and older will soon begin deciding how to spend a half-million dollars in City funds. And this week, for the first time, residents will be able to vote online.
It’s called Participatory Budgeting (PB), and it began with resident volunteers submitting ideas for capital improvement projects — one-time expenses, like playgrounds and bus shelters. Project advocates in each of Greensboro’s five districts then spent months developing their proposals before they’re vetted and placed on the ballot. This year they’ve expanded to include existing programs or pilot programs.
Greensboro Budget and Management Analyst Jason Martin says PB engages new voices in the democratic process.
"This particular program is excellent for that," says Martin. "It gives them a chance to participate in something, and they may have never done anything like this before with local government. They haven't sat on a formal commission, or a formal board, or anything like that. This gives them a chance to really work on something that, at the end of it, it could be funded and happen in a relatively short amount of time."
Martin says that as a public administrator he places great value on the public input he receives from these volunteer advocates.
"The creativity of the ideas they submit — whether they make it to the ballot or not — are really interesting and ones that a lot of people wouldn't have thought of," he says. "One was for — you know we have the Galleon depot here — the bus stop and Amtrak. It’s city property, and one of the ideas that was submitted was for a solar charging station for cell phones. And I thought, what a brilliant idea!"
The first two years of the program saw voter turnout reach roughly 1,200 people. Martin hopes to see those numbers climb this cycle with the addition of online voting. In-person voting begins Friday at the North Carolina Folk Festival downtown. It will continue through Halloween with pop-up locations scattered throughout the city.