Budget in a Box is designed to garner public input on the budget priorities from residents in each council district. Budget in a Box is designed to garner public input on the budget priorities from residents in each council district.[/caption]

A city of Austin initiative designed to garner public input on the budget drew only three residents to a May 26 meeting in District 4.

Those who participated were skeptical about the exercise, but city representatives said the program is an opportunity to garner feedback about what services are important to the residents of each council district.

The Budget in a Box initiative asks participants whether the city should maintain the current level of funding, decrease funding by 5 percent or increase funding by 5 percent in eight categories—clean communities, planning and economic development, emergency response, parks and libraries, health and housing, streets and infrastructure, water and energy.

The exercise is designed like a game, complete with a poster that puts each category in a separate box and describes the services included in the category. If a participant wants a funding increase, he or she places a green sticker in the corresponding box. A yellow sticker indicates the funding in that category should stay the same, and a red sticker signifies a decrease in funding.

Marianne Reddivari, a city intern who helped facilitate the May 26 exercise at Gus Garcia Recreation Center, said once the group comes to a consensus on funding for each category, she includes the result in a report to City Council.

Although the three participants easily agreed on some budget items, such as an increase in funding for parks and libraries, they split opinions on others items, such as emergency response, for which two participants wanted to cut funding and the third was adamant about an increase. One of the participants, District 4 resident Stephen Kreger, said the ultimate consensus might not be reflective of how everyone at the meeting felt.

Kreger also expressed concern that so many services were lumped into each category. For example, both business recruitment and building permitting and inspection fall under the planning and economic development category. Kreger said he would decrease funding for business recruitment but not for permitting.

Ann Easton, a management fellow with the city of Austin who also ran the District 4 event, said she and Reddivari have conducted several Budget in a Box presentations since the program kicked off April 29, and the number of participants varies.
“We may not have had the same amount of participants [each time], but the conversations have always been lively,” she said.

Reddivari said residents can request a Budget in a Box set with instructions, comment cards and a Budget Basics DVD and enter the results online. Individuals can also submit their budget priorities using a web application at https://austintexas.gov/online-form/budget-box.

For more information or to request a Budget in a Box set, visit https://austintexas.gov/budgetbox.