Monday, March 19, 2012

St. Pete activists launch the "People's Budget Review"

Posted By on Mon, Mar 19, 2012 at 4:38 PM

A diverse crowd gathered on the steps of St. Petersburg City Hall Monday morning to officially launch a public survey initiative called the People's Budget Review. The coalition behind the push to get 10,000 surveys from St. Petersburg residents, includes the NAACP, Agenda 2010, Awake Pinellas and the League of Women Voters.

"The public tends to be presented with two extremes when it comes to budgets," said Darden Rice, president of the St. Petersburg League of Women Voters. "We want to get the public thinking creatively and critically about finding the middle ground between austere cuts and raising taxes."

Their volunteers were everyone: the young, old, employed, underemployed and unemployed. The goal is to gather 10,000 surveys from citizens on their concerns for city spending.

St. Petersburg League of Women Voters President Darden Rice, speaking at the Peoples Budget Review announcement Monday at St. Petersburg City Hall.
  • Arielle Stevenson
  • St. Petersburg League of Women Voters President Darden Rice, speaking at the People's Budget Review announcement Monday at St. Petersburg City Hall.

"It's often looked upon as too complicated for mere citizens to have input and understand the budgetary process," said Manuel Sykes, president of the St. Petersburg NAACP. "I'm here today to say it's not that complicated. We don't need algorithms or algebraic problems to decide what is fair and equitable to everyone."

The group hopes to have 2,000 surveys completed by April 25, in time for the Mayor's Summit. By September's budget review meetings, they hope to have all 10,000 completed.

"It's a tall order getting 10,000 people to do anything," Christian Haas of Awake Pinellas said. "But good government policy can only go so far and we can prioritize based on shared values."

Asked why Haas thought the city of St. Petersburg hadn't done a survey themselves, he replied, "They don't always trust citizens enough. But we are neighbors who are just trying to get surveys completed so we can take that data and support it."

Robin Wynn is employed by the city as a stormwater technician. As a city employee she questions why money is spent on some things but not others.

"We have a $300,000 piece of machinery that has never been used," Wynn said. "I took a picture of the cobwebs on it. Meanwhile, we didn't get a raise."

Wynn has four grandchildren, whose interests she intends to protect.

"We need to keep a lookout on the pools, the parks, the libraries and mom and pops," Wynn said. "I'm sure the mayor is watching from his office, but he didn't even come down to say anything."

Indeed, Mayor Bill Foster and the other elected city officials were no-shows at Monday's press conference.

"This is totally about getting the citizens engaged in the already existing process," Rice said. "But we are taking it up a notch."

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