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City of Salinas – Budget Deliberative Forum Story

Case Story

Community:City of Salinas (Monterey County)

Population: 150,898

Summary: Service-Level Dialogues

The Salinas City Council has made “consistent community outreach and engagement” one of its four thematic goals. The city conducted a series of four three-hour community conversations about city service levels in four different neighborhoods as part of an effort to address a large budget deficit.

Salinas used grant funds to hire an experienced firm to help design, promote and facilitate community budget conversations. Bilingual advertisements helped draw out hundreds of the city’s diverse residents.

At each meeting, the consultants gave an introductory presentation describing city services, quality of life issues and an overview of the city’s current economic situation. They explained that the city was needed to either cut back on services or increase revenues. Detailed graphs and charts showed where the city’s money came from and how it was spent, as well as comparative data on how local services stacked up against those of nearby cities.

Following the presentation, participants worked in small groups using worksheets to guide them in a discussion about the pros and cons of three different budget scenarios. These alternatives included reduced services, somewhat increased taxes to preserve present services, and higher fees and taxes necessary to add to and improve existing services.

Participants reached consensus on the best scenario and the methods they preferred to make their choice workable. After the discussions, participants were asked to fill out detailed surveys about their final judgment on how the city should handle its deficit and what trade-offs they were willing to accept.

According to a Salinas Neighborhood Services staff member, “the city is hoping that, through repeated involvement in processes like this, residents will become more responsible for what happens in their community.”

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