By Emily Williams
On Nov. 2, the Hyattsville City Council discussed Mayor Candace Hollingsworth’s proposal to create an ad hoc advisory committee to work toward participatory budgeting.
The committee would recommend a process for Hyattsville residents to have a direct say in the allocation of the city’s budget, beginning with the 2023 budget.
One member from each of the city’s existing committees and up to two residents not currently on a city task force would comprise the committee. Recommendations could include how the city will solicit residents’ input and the degree to which residents will influence budget decisions.
Councilmember Danny Schaible (Ward 2) voiced his support for the committee, saying, “I think getting participation on the outset as to what shape it would take is a smart way to go.”
Councilmember Edouard Haba (Ward 4) also supported the idea but recommended having a representative from each ward on the committee.
Hollingsworth responded that the city has had some difficulty filling committees in the past. She said that including members from city committees, while leaving space for residents not serving on committees, would allow for geographic diversity in the advisory group.
“If we see through that dynamic that we are lacking representation from various areas, [then] we do an additional, specific call for participants,” Hollingsworth said, adding that she would clarify that aspect in the motion.
The council agreed tentatively to set the committee proposal as an action item for their Nov. 16 session.
Following Black Lives Matter protests, Hollingsworth wrote a June 1 blog post, stating her agenda for Hyattsville as a list of 35 policy proposals. Implementing a participatory budget is the third policy recommendation on the list, which also includes integrating cultural competency assessments for municipal employees and advocating for mandatory Spanish instruction for students as early as prekindergarten.
Around the country, some people refer to a form of participatory budgeting as the “people’s budget.” Activists want residents to have a say in where government funding goes, in an effort to defund the police and invest more in social services.
Participatory budgeting began in Brazil in 1989 and has been implemented in more than 3,000 cities around the world, mostly at the municipal level. New York City is one of these municipalities, allowing residents to propose and vote on projects they wish to allocate money to in their respective districts.
Currently in Hyattsville, the city finance department prepares the annual budget, and the process is internal, said City Treasurer Ronald Brooks. Budget documents for the next fiscal year go to department heads and the city administrator in November or December.
Three to four weeks later, the treasurer and city administrator schedule department meetings to go over operating and capital budget records. Then, a budgetary document gets introduced to the city council for discussion.
Brooks stated that he favored the proposal, noting that his job would expand rather than change. The ideal process would run on a joint track, he said. While discussions continued internally with department heads, the mayor and city administrator, externally, the community would discuss and make decisions about their part of the budget.
Participatory budgeting can have some disadvantages. For example, the process can be more time-consuming because city officials must gather community input and get residents to come to a consensus.
Despite this risk, Brooks noted that it’s still important to give taxpayers a say how their dollars are being spent.
“I think it could work out well for Hyattsville; it’s a small enough community,” he said. “The key is going to be how strong and committed people are … to setting up the meeting within various areas of the city, moving the process forward and meeting deadlines.”