In the program’s third year, the city of Durham is setting aside $2.4 million for residents to spend as they please.
The initiative, known as participatory budgeting (PB), is a way for residents ages 13 and older to have direct influence on deciding how a portion of the public budget should be spent. The goal of the participatory budget, according to its website, is to increase “engagement in diverse populations while educating the public about local government processes.”
The participatory budget process is currently in its first phase which focuses on brainstorming ideas.
Durham residents, including Duke students, can use an online mapping tool to submit ideas until Dec. 10 about where they would like to see part of the budget used and why. Proposed projects must benefit the public, be a one-time cost, and be capital projects. The tool also allows residents to see other ideas that have been proposed.
Following the first phase, residents are recruited to serve as budget delegates who work with the PB Durham Steering Committee and city staff to come up with concrete proposals. Residents then get to vote on how to divide the $2.4 million among the proposals.
Winning projects in PB Durham’s first cycle in 2018-19 included an LGTBQ Youth Center, bus shelters and technology for Durham Public Schools. The second cycle in 2019-20 provided grants of up to $50,000 to various nonprofits.
The funding was previously divided through the city-wide ward system, but this year’s mapping tool hopes to promote equitable distribution by reaching communities that need funding the most.
Andrew Holland, assistant director for the budget and management services department of Durham, describes PB as having the ability “to go into those underserved and marginalized communities in Durham to ensure that those individuals can participate in this process.”
Holland hopes students can engage with the Durham community by volunteering their time to help reach out to community members, such as informing Durham residents about PB through pop-up events. During the proposal development stage, students can volunteer as budget delegates to turn submitted ideas into actual proposals.
When voting opens up to Durham residents, Holland hopes students can go into communities to spread the word of what is available on the PB ballot. An “assembly day” will take place before the voting begins, giving budget delegates the opportunity to go into different communities to meet residents and clarify any questions over proposals.
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Michael Ramos is a Trinity first-year and a staff reporter of The Chronicle's 118th volume.