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City of Claremont – Budget Workshop Story

Case Story

Community:City of Claremont (Los Angeles County)

Population: 37,242

Summary: Goal-Setting Workshops

Claremont’s tradition of public engagement includes public participation in the agency’s biennial budget process. This process comprises a series of five workshops over six-month period where residents provide input on services funded by the city budget.

The workshops’ goals are to identify:

  • What the agency is doing well and should continue;
  • What the agency is already doing but needs to do more of; and
  • What the agency is not doing that needs to be addressed.

Some workshops involve the community at large and are held in different parts of the community. Others seek input from agency board and commission members, volunteers and other highly involved community members.

The discussion begins with a brief overview of the budget and focuses on explaining the city’s revenue sources. Residents learn what portions of sales, property and other taxes are received by the city, as well as the types of fees that are charged to fund city-provided services. Expenditures are also presented, using charts that the average person can easily understand.

Following the presentation, staff are available for one-on-one discussions to clarify, respond to questions and create avenues for further communication.

Although agency staff facilitate the discussion, the finance director notes that it’s important to the community and to elected officials that this dialogue is resident-driven. Participants generate their own ideas rather than ranking a list of items produced by staff.

Working in small groups, participants discuss and consider public services from both neighborhood and citywide perspectives. Next, each group shares its findings with the whole group, and staff tallies the results for a report to elected officials. Staff asks residents questions to delve more deeply into key issues and records participants’ ideas on video screens or large whiteboards.

Elected officials attend the workshops to listen to the discussions, but not to share their own views. A workshop conducted later in the budgeting process gives elected officials an opportunity to review the priorities generated by the early workshops and then ask community members detailed questions.

“We are looking for specific, identifiable goals for the two-year budget cycle to meet people’s needs,” the finance director explains. “It’s something we can address and tackle and show results. Then we can come back in the next budget cycle and ask, ‘How did we do? Now what category would you put this in? Do we still need more or have we done enough?’”

Once goals are set, city staff develops a proposed budget and work plan and presents them at a council two-day budget workshop. After each department presentation, there is opportunity for public comment and discussion among residents and department staff. Workshop results range from small adjustments to going back to the drawing board if staff missed the mark or a burning issue arises between January and May.

The finance director believes this approach works better than waiting to engage residents during a budget crisis. “If the city communicates regularly with residents and engages them in active dialogue for a long time, then the community will be more likely to trust that the city is being fiscally responsible with their dollars and approve a ballot measure.” He adds, “The community feels they have a stake and that their voices are heard, even if they don’t always get what they want.”

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