By Paul Kiefer
Seattle’s participatory budgeting process, which received $30 million in the 2021 city budget adopted last year, “is now clearly delayed until next year,” Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales confirmed by email Wednesday.
The city council identified participatory budgeting as a way to allocate spending on alternatives to policing last year. But the timeline to get the process underway has been unclear for months because of uncertainty about who will manage the process. The council is considering two options, but Morales has been reluctant to move forward with either alternative.
The first option would follow the plan the Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP) team laid out in their final presentation to the city council in March. According to that plan, a third-party contractor—likely a nonprofit—would be responsible for hiring a 26-person “steering committee,” made up of people representing various marginalized groups. The steering committee would gather proposals from Seattle-area residents, shape them into viable projects, and supervise a citywide voting process to choose which projects get funded; through the contractor, the city would pay steering committee members an annual salary of around $112,000, including benefits.
Despite the delays and controversies, Morales still hopes that a larger-scale participatory budgeting process can become an annual part of the city’s budget.
The third-party contractor would also be responsible for reducing barriers to participation in the participatory budgeting process, including by distributing WiFi hotspots and computers to low-income residents and providing translation services.
Because of all these new hires, the BBRP researchers’ proposed budget for administering the participatory budgeting process is close to $8 million, with an additional $6 million set aside to cover unexpected costs; that would leave roughly $16 million to fund community safety projects.
Because of its high overhead costs, Morales has called called the BBRP’s proposal “unworkable” in its current form. But she is no more confident in an alternative proposal, offered by Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington during talks with the council with BBRP researchers, that would put the Department of Neighborhoods (DON) in charge of participatory budgeting at a lower cost and on a shorter timeline. Under that model, DON would hire 15 contractors to serve on a steering committee for $75 an hour; overall, the mayor’s office estimates that the scaled-down approach would cost $2.6 million, but the office maintains that the mayor isn’t advocating for any model in particular.
The Department of Neighborhoods runs a small, four-year-old participatory budgeting program called Your Voice, Your Choice, which allows residents to suggest and select small capital improvement projects—new speed bumps in front of Leschi Elementary School, for instance—for the department to fund.
From Morales’ perspective, the alternative participatory budgeting plan doesn’t reflect input from Black Seattle residents; according to the BBRP researchers’ final report to the council, members of the public who responded to their questionnaires and participated in their town halls were specifically opposed to entrusting DON to oversee the project. Instead, the respondents favored using staffers from the Office of Civil Rights to support the work of a community steering committee. Continue reading “Participatory Budgeting “Clearly Delayed Until Next Year,” Councilmember Confirms”