Jersey City officials explained how residents can get involved in a $300,000 participatory budget pilot this year, with an online portal being utilized to develop proposals for up to $50,000 a piece in all six wards.
“We’re starting this off with several hundred thousand dollars in this year’s budget and the goal is to expand that every year so that citizens have a broader say on the projects that we are focused on in their specific areas of the city,” Mayor Steven Fulop said during an event for local press inside his conference room this afternoon.
Fulop first mentioned the concept during his State of the City Address on Tuesday.
“Building on that, because this is a pilot program, we thought that the most important thing was to have an engaging and easy to use tool for residents to have a direct involvement and say in the spending decisions of the city’s budget and really democratizing the process,” added Assistant Business Administrator Barkha Patel.
After residents submit their email address and are asked to identify what ward they live in, they are given a couple of example projects (such as water fountains in Riverview Park) as well as what areas are off limits like county roads, Liberty State Park, and Port Authority property before they get into their proposals.
The next step is to submit an explanation of what the project is, followed by why they think the project is important, if they have a specific address or location in mind, before finally having the option to add photos before the proposal is submitted.
Patel explained the process as System Analyst Andrew Hitti clicked through the online portal that was displayed on a projector screen.
“Technology is a key component to increasing participation in local government, and this community budget pilot will be a platform to amplify local voices,” said Hitti.
“The more context we all share on how things work, the easier it is to solve problems together … The while point of this is to really use every resident’s brain to help make our communities better.”
He added that the local governments in Boston, New York, and Chicago have used the same open source platform to develop their own initiatives, which will be helpful in this case so residents can review each other’s proposals prior to approval.
During a question and answer session, Patel noted that the city will host live virtual tutorials on March 15th and March 17th starting at 6:30 p.m., which can be accessed through the program’s website.
Recordings of the virtual tutorials will be available following each event.
“Then, soon after that, we will open up the submission page for them to vote. That will take several weeks I think, two to three weeks for residents to submit actual ideas, then we will take close to two months for the city to actually process and parse out all of the ideas,” she said.
Patel continued that they anticipate a two-week voting period in May before announcing the winners in June and making it a part of the 2022 municipal budget.
She also said that it is possible for a ward to have say five projects valued at $10,000 each as opposed to just one $50,000 proposal per ward.
“We thought this was a good starting dollar amount, $300,000, that we could do some meaningful stuff, test it, and then scale it up if it works. So the goal is to really get thousands of residents involved that have never been involved with the budget process before,” stated Fulop.