Citizen Input on Jacksonville’s Budget Process
Saturday morning I found myself at Cecil Community Center in the Equestrian Center complex where about 75 people had gathered for the purpose of learning about the city budget, and letting department heads know what they think is or isn’t important.
It was a very educational two hours.
I had been asked by JCCI to come and help facilitate the meeting, which meant wandering around amongst the various tables and helping keep folks on track. The good news was that nobody really needed any help keeping on track. It was a very civilized meeting.
Those who were interested in attending signed-up at the website www.myjaxbudget.com, and indicated in which area of the city they have a particular interest. When they arrive at the meeting, they were assigned to a table with a department head or someone knowledgeable about a particular area of the budget. Mayor Peyton maked a 30 minute presentation about the overall city budget, the various revenue streams, what percentage is discretionary, how we stack up against various other cities… all of it raw data that was presented to the JCCI budget study last year. Then, the department heads at each table talked with the citizens who expressed an interest about the various functions of their departments. The tables included everything from public works, the Sheriff’s Office, Fire and Rescue, and Economic Development to libraries, the Children’s Commission, and Parks and Recreation. There were 11 tables in all.
Each table had a JCCI facilitator, and each had a large board on which was listed the various functions of those departments. Some had as few as a dozen items, some had as many as 25.
After the discussion, the people at the tables were asked to rate each of the various functions in one of four categories: Must Have, Should Have, Nice To Have, Don’t Want. There were four to six people, on average, at each table voting.
These budget meetings are being set up to correspond with the various CPACS around the city. City Councilman Art Graham told me, during The Jacksonville Observer Radio Show last Wednesday, that a meeting is being planned for the beaches area, even though it’s not yet listed on the website. JCCI has not yet firmed up a date or location for that meeting.
So why is this important? Well, one of the things that came out of the JCCI budget study was that there needed to be more transparency and public input into the budget process. And this is one of the ways the city is undertaking to collect that public input.
What struck me about the session was how much consensus there was in many of the functions of the various departments in the “Must Have” and “Should Have” categories. It would seem that folks attending the meeting Saturday felt like much of what city government does falls into one of those two categories… particularly when it comes to JSO, Public Works, Fire and Rescue, and Housing and Neighborhoods. Some of the other departments had the votes spread over the various categories, but based on this one-meeting snapshot, it seems that at least among those who are engaged in this process, people think the city government is largely on the right track.
There were some dissenters, of course, and that is a good thing. If everyone is offering the same ideas, nobody learns anything and nobody’s ideas are challenged. Given the population of the city, and the number of people who attend the sessions, each person at a table represents many thousands of city residents... so you would hope that there would be some different ideas at the tables.
I’ll be attending many of these sessions as a volunteer, and will find it interesting to see in how many regions of the city there is the kind of consensus I saw at the Cecil Community Center. If you have not yet gotten involved in the process, and you have an interest, I’d urge you to go to www.myjaxbudget.com and sign up for a session near you. So often, we grouse about how the city spends its money. But when its laid out and explained, it becomes, at least for some, a little more difficult to ask “well, is that really how the city ought to be spending its money?”
For some, it makes that question much easier.
There’s only one way for you to know on which side of that question you fall.
Our guest this week on The Jacksonville Observer Radio show is Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland. I hope you’ll join me Wednesday afternoon at 5:00 on ABC 1320, WBOB.