The third round of Participatory Budgeting is kicked off this month, but it raises the question how can it be called Participatory Budgeting when in the first two rounds about 99.6 percent of the people in Greensboro did not participate.
Only 1,174 people voted on how to spend the $500,000 in the last round of the give-away program which breaks down to $100,000 per City Council district. In a city of about 290,000 that means about 288,826 people didn’t vote. The total was up slightly from the first round of Participatory Budgeting where 1,123 people cast ballots. But one way they got the vote total up to 1,174 in the second round was going to schools where they had a captive audience. This round the organizers might also want to try senior living facilities or even the Guilford County jail. If you’re looking for a captive audience you can’t do any better than the jail.
Participatory budgeting is on a two year cycle where the project selection and voting takes place one year and the $500,000 is spent the next. The City Council would like to allocate $500,000 a year for Participatory Budgeting, but the city staff put it’s foot down. It’s a lot amount of extra work for city staff both in organizing the process and then in getting the projects completed.
You don’t have to be a registered voter to vote in Participatory Budgeting, in fact you don’t have to be a citizen, a legal resident or old enough to vote. Anyone over 14 who can prove they live in a particular City Council district can vote on how to spend $100,000 in that district.
Which in and of itself is pretty fascinating. The liberals behind Participatory Budgeting are opposed to requiring any kind of identification for voting in an actual election, but if you can’t prove you live in the council district, you are not allowed to vote in Participatory Budgeting. So the identification requirements are stricter for Participatory Budgeting than to cast a ballot for president, or a city councilmember for that matter.
The idea is to allow citizens, not the city government decide how $100,000 will be spent in each council district, but the message sent loud and clear by the people who live in Greensboro is that they don’t care enough to participate.
Many would consider a program, that had a participation rate of about 0.4 percent, a failure but the supporters of participatory budgeting have ignored the facts and talk about the program as a great success. They actually talk about the tremendous amount of participation they had.
One thing is certain, in this round of Participatory Budgeting whether 50 people vote or 1,500 it will be deemed a magnificent success by the City Council.
Considering that the city is once again operating at a deficit, this might be a program that the City Council should choose to reconsider after all 99.6 percent of the people in Greensboro have proven they don’t care about it.