Calif. city that went bankrupt lets residents help set budget; pothole repair picked over art

  • Updated: June 11, 2013 - 3:40 PM

VALLEJO, Calif. — A Northern California city that emerged from bankruptcy two years ago is trying a novel approach to setting part of its budget: having the public decide.

The city of Vallejo let residents over the age of 16 vote in May on how to spend about $3.2 million, The San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday (http://bit.ly/192uwNc ).

Taxpayers were allowed to pick from 33 projects, with the top 12 sharing the money.

The winners included pothole and street repair, community gardens and streetlights. Among the losers were public art and small-business training.

The City Council certified the vote results last week and sent them to city staff to incorporate in the budget, the Chronicle reported. The one-time funds to the winners would be in addition to whatever the City Council allots them.

"This was a way to give the public some confidence in a city government they viewed as broken," City Manager Daniel Keen said. "And it turns out many of them became passionately involved."

About 4,000 of the city's 116,000 residents voted. Voting was held at schools, libraries, senior centers, City Hall, supermarkets and other places that get much traffic.

A volunteer commission that came up with the list of 33 projects decided to include 16-year-olds because many of the projects affected them, the Chronicle reported. The panel also wanted to get young people involved in civic affairs.

The $3.2 million is coming from a 1-cent sales tax voters approved in 2011. It represents about 30 percent of the proceeds.

The rest of the money is going toward police, reserves and other areas that were cut after the city filed for bankruptcy in 2008.

Mayor Osby Davis said allowing residents to vote on projects is a good concept, but the city needs to spend money on core services, not things like community gardens.

"This is not the time to fund whatever we want," he said.

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