The Mirror News

Citizens’ say in council budgeting process?

SOUTH Gippsland ratepayers could soon be determining the council spend on community infrastructure.

South Gippsland Shire Council is seriously considering a participatory budgeting approach for its next budget.

Five progressive councillors – Jim Fawcett, Mohya Davies, Bob Newton, Lorraine Brunt and Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks – have put their names to a Notice of Motion on “improving community participation in capital works budgeting,” to be discussed at next week’s (August 26) council meeting. They hope to put in train a process whereby the community can be directly charged with the allocation of council funds to deliver capital works projects for nominated local areas.

The councillors are proposing that Council set up a Participatory Budgeting Jury to determine projects and allocate capital works for the 2016/17 budget to the value of $400,000 each in the areas of Korumburra, Foster, Venus Bay and Mirboo North.

They anticipate that the additional expenditure of $1.6 million can be found within the existing resources of Council’s long term financial plan.

The communities were selected on the basis that they are large and will provide a reasonable sample on which Council and residents can form a judgement on the value of the process.

“Participatory budgeting has been a talking point for over ten years and has been trialled successfully both overseas and here in Australia. Local councillors have explored and discussed the concept on and off since 2009,” said Cr Fawcett.

The participatory budgeting approach, developed in Latin America in the 1980s and adopted widely in the US, grew out of frustration that government spending often failed to reflect the needs of the population.

In Australia, councils have started using participatory budgeting processes to get citizen informed recommendations on budget decisions. They generally draw on the citizen jury format, where a group of between 30 and 45 people is recruited from a random stratified sample for chosen characteristics. The group’s discussions are informed by evidence provided by the council and/or community submissions from the broader community. Last year in the City of Melbourne citizen jurors were given privileged access to the City’s forward budgeting and strategies, while in the City of Darebin community groups proposed over 35 projects, which were prioritised by the jury, informed by evidence from senior managers and staff and external expert witnesses.

It was the success of the City of Melbourne initiative which prompted the five South Gippsland councillors to take this unusual action to inform and direct next year’s budget.

“The Notice of Motion provides for a report that sets out the appropriate framework and timelines that allow our community to directly participate in next year’s budget,” said Cr Fawcett.

Key points to be considered by the shire officers who write the report include: the number and selection method of panel members to ensure a random representation; the geographical area that each panel covers; estimated costs to facilitate the panels; methodology to be employed; key milestones; estimated resources and costs to facilitate the process; evaluation objectives and success measures; and time frame. The councillors hope the process can be completed by March 2016 to enable the projects to commence in the 2016/17 financial year.

Fortuitously, the Victorian Local Government Association has recently announced details of a workshop on how to run a participatory budgeting jury. The five councillors are hoping Council can participate in this workshop to gain a better understanding of the steps involved and the associated operational implications required to ensure successful implementation of the project.

Details about the Notice of Motion are in the Agenda papers for the August meeting, which are available at council offices and libraries and on the council web page.

“Other councillors have been provided advance notice of this motion. Their comments have been supportive. We welcome their support on the motion when it is presented to Council for decision,” concluded Cr Fawcett.

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