Participatory Budgeting Cleveland, or PB CLE, released an action plan today for how they’d engage residents in coming up with ideas for how to spend $30.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. The group chose the number because they say it represents the 30.8% of city residents living in poverty. Now, they’re looking to give residents more of a say in how the dollars are spent to benefit their communities.
“Cleveland residents are experts in their own neighborhoods,” said Jennifer Lumpkin, an organizer with PB CLE, in a release. “Residents like me and my neighbors deserve real power to make real decisions about how public money is spent in our neighborhood through participatory budgeting.”
The city of Cleveland was awarded $511 million in ARPA funds, the eighth highest of any city nationwide. Despite the high-profile award, the city did not hold public meetings on how the funds would be spent. The city surveyed residents and got more than 2,000 responses. (Check out The Land’s and Documenters’ analysis of those survey responses here).
Mayor Justin Bibb endorsed PB CLE’s campaign in June of last year when he was running for mayor, and implementing participatory budget is listed as a goal of the mayor’s transition plan. However, Cleveland City Council must approve any ARPA spending over $50,000, and few city council members have publicly committed to supporting PB CLE.
Members of PB CLE say they will attend the city council meeting on Monday, March 28 at 7 pm to provide public comment about participatory budgeting and to distribute copies of their plan to members of city council, the Bibb administration, and the media.
Can Cleveland crowdsource its ARPA budget? That’s the question that neighborhood organizers are really asking as they seek more citizen input as to how the city spends those coveted federal rescue plan dollars.
PB CLE says its action plan would bolster confidence in how the city responds to their needs by giving every Cleveland resident an opportunity to suggest and vote on projects in their neighborhoods.
Here’s how it would work:
Group collects ideas from residents
Budget delegates would turn citizen ideas into actual projects
Residents would get a chance to vote
Winning projects would get implemented
The group says the proposed plan is based on best practices from 700+ municipalities in North America that have used participatory budgeting. The group cites research showing $35 million was devoted to 35 wards from capital funds in New York City. In 2014-15, 57% of the voters were people of color, 44% were below the median income in the city, and 23% were youth or non-citizens who could not otherwise vote.
In recent years, Chicago, Seattle, Philly, Greensboro in North Carolina, St. Louis, Grand Rapids, and Vallejo in California have all implemented participatory budgeting projects.
It would take about two years to organize the process, PB CLE says. The group recommends splitting it into two different phases. In terms of how funds are allocated, there are three different options: they could be split up by ward, divided by the percentage of residents living in poverty in each ward, or pooled citywide. PB CLE’s plan calls for compensating steering committee members and budget delegates who work on the effort, and hiring paid staff at the city and a local nonprofit. The total project budget would be about $490,000 per year, including outreach expenses.
The group’s organizers have their sights set on using ARPA dollars as a test case to get more citizen involvement in budgeting citywide, says Molly Martin, one of the group’s organizers and director of strategic initiatives at the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH).
“ARPA is more than a chance to make big investments in Cleveland; it’s also an opportunity to transform how we make big investments in Cleveland,” said Laylah Allen, a member of the PB CLE Coordinating Committee. “PB is a chance to revitalize our faith in democracy in Cleveland, to rebuild trust for equitable progress, to amplify the voices of residents who have been systematically suppressed and overlooked time and time again.”
Lee Chilcote is executive director of The Land.