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‘Participatory budgeting’ proposal could give Atlantans control of city funds

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“Residents know better than City Hall what their neighborhood needs most,” says councilman Amir Farokhi

a picture of a busted and a fixed sidewalk
Midtown Alliance and city officials are teaching construction workers how to repair sidewalks the right way. Maybe residents could push for changes like these.
Midtown Alliance

Imagine if Atlantans were in charge of city funds and could spend them however their respective communities saw fit without government interference.

If Atlanta City Councilman Amir Farokhi has his way, that concept could become a reality.

The idea is called “participatory budgeting,” and Farokhi introduced legislation on December 3 that could amend the city charter to bring it to Atlanta.

“With PB programs, residents propose capital projects for their communities, create a ballot of the best ideas, and vote on which projects to implement free of government interference,” as explained in a city council press release.

The idea was first put into action three decades ago in a Brazilian city to combat poverty and has since been adopted by 3,000 other cities around the world, according to the Participatory Budgeting Project.

If the legislation is passed, a portion of the city’s budget would be earmarked for each council district.

That could mean roughly $1 million per year for each district.

The only criteria is that the projects picked by community members must be legal and safe.

“But we have to walk before we can run,” said Farokhi, noting that a pilot project would need to be carried out before city officials elect to allocate a whole 2 percent of the Atlanta’s general fund, according to the press release.

Farokhi also said that some Atlantans have trust issues when it comes to local government, and enacting participatory budgeting could help put those concerns at bay.

Rather than wait around for infrastructure improvement projects to fill potholes or fix busted sidewalks, residents could opt to be proactive and spend some of their $1 million on needed repairs, per Farokhi.

“Residents know better than City Hall what their neighborhood needs most,” he said.

Around the country, participatory budgeting programs have been successful in other cities, such as New York, Seattle, and Chicago.

Farokhi is working to get his pilot project funded before the fiscal year 2020 budget, which city leaders will approve next summer.