Several weeks ago, the office of Denver’s Mayor Michael Hancock launched a two-part community engagement strategy to gather public input on important financial issues facing the City of Denver. A series of public forums put keypad polling devices in the hands of city employees and Denver residents to test the best ideas for how to address the City’s financial challenges. The Mayor also unveiled a new participatory budgeting tool encouraging public feedback on key topics relative to fixing Denver’s budget gap. The new interactive tool, Delivering Denver’s Future, gives residents a unique opportunity to weigh in on how to fix the city’s broken budget.
Denver's budget is a financial blueprint that maps the many services the City provides and how those services are funded. Because of the economic downturn and a structural imbalance between expense growth and revenue growth, the City has closed $450 million in budget shortfalls over the past four years. The 2013 gap is expected to be $94 million. The City appointed a Structural Financial Task Force to explore various options to eliminate the budget imbalance. The Task Force issued 29 recommendations in January, stating that to maintain quality services and create a sustainable Denver, the budget gap must be permanently eliminated.
Based on these recommendations, Mayor Hancock determined that the public’s input will be invaluable in helping to secure Denver’s future for generations to come. In early March, the mayor’s office began working with Civic Canopy and Urban Interactive Studio to develop the public input process which included 4 public meetings and Developing Denver’s Future, the city’s first ever online participatory budgeting tool.
To eliminate the budget gap, the city must continue reducing expenses and making itself even more efficient and effective than it already is and find new ways to strengthen the economy. According to Hancock and his team, Denver must also take an honest and objective look at all of the city’s revenue options. He is considering a menu of immediate actions that will set the city on a sustainable path and has solicited the public’s help. Using the new budget tool, residents are able to answer some of the mayor’s pressing questions, like, should the number of health care providers offered to city employees be limited? And should a separate library district to restore hours and improve technology be established?
When visiting Delivering Denver’s Future, users are first guided through an infographic, quickly explaining the budgeting process and providing background on the issues before diving into the interactive workbook tool.
Here, users can explore a series of specific budgetary questions, such as whether or not employees’ pension contributions should be increased. While participants go through the process of making tough choices about cutting expenses or raising taxes with each option, they see a chart that automatically updates to indicate how much of the $94 mil. budget shortfall they have solved.
There is a series of about ten questions for residents to answer - allowing them to monitor how they are doing on closing the budget gap all the while. Answers to questions can be revisited and changed if desired - each change will impact the overall budget sliding scale.
After finishing up with the questions, the user is asked for their zip code, for obvious demographic reasons, and then is taken to the final step on the tool, an open comment area: Your Ideas. In this section, residents are asked to provide any other ideas they might have for balancing the budget, which the city may not have considered as of yet.
To date, the process has reached 500 people through the public workshops and 700+ citizens have voiced their preferences through the online budgeting website.