City Council, students launch ‘participatory budgeting’
City of Beacon officials have been visiting Erin Haddeland’s Participation in Government class at Beacon High School for years.
Mayor Lee Kyriacou spoke to students about civics when he was a City Council member. Police officers came to discuss criminal justice. But since the pandemic, Haddeland said it’s been a challenge to reconnect her students with what’s happening locally.
That may change by giving them a little money to spend.
In 2019, the City Council allocated $5,000 in the following year’s budget for what it called “participatory budgeting,” but COVID nixed the idea. The council allotted the same amount for 2021 but, without a framework for the project, the money went unspent. The 2022 budget again includes $5,000.
Combine that money with 2021’s (the $5,000 allocated for 2020 was returned to the city’s fund balance), and you have $10,000 waiting for the right proposal.
On Dec. 12, a group of Beacon High School seniors will make presentations to the council on “how to improve Beacon.” A week later, council members will vote on how to spend the $10,000.
“Every year I ask my class, ‘What’s one thing you would change in school or the city?’ ” Haddeland said. “Now it’s, ‘What’s one thing you would change? And if you keep it under $10,000, you might actually be able to do it.’”
The exercise, the first of its kind in Beacon, will provide a bridge connecting the concepts students study in class and real-world application.
“For 16- and 17-year-olds, this is the age when they are about to be able to vote, to be able to run for office themselves if they want to,” noted City Council Member Paloma Wake, who, with City Administrator Chris White, spoke to seniors at the high school in October. “They have been directly impacted by the choices that government and adults are making for them all their lives, and now they’re starting to exercise their power to make choices for themselves, which is thrilling for anyone who believes in direct democracy.”
It was tough getting the students to open up at first, Wake said, “but once someone hit on the right issue — traffic along Matteawan Road, lack of resources for unhoused people within the city, lack of performance and social gathering spaces for young people, lack of respect for Beacon’s Black historical figures, lack of affordable food even on a crowded Main Street — the students had a lot to say.”
Of the 200 or so members of the Class of 2023, about half shared viable suggestions when Wake and White spoke about municipal budgeting, Haddeland said. After narrowing those down, students were grouped to flesh out the best proposals.
About a half-dozen students will make presentations to the City Council. The proposals include upgrades to the basketball courts at Memorial Park, repairs to the municipal swimming pool and installing refillable water stations in city parks.
Mark Price, the city’s recreation director, who spoke at the high school last month, advised students to develop their proposals by researching the pricing and availability of nets and backboards, for example, that they’d like to see if the basketball courts are improved.
The council again included $10,000 in the city budget for 2023 for the program, and Haddeland is hopeful that participation will grow.
“Once the students see their ideas as a finished product, we’ll be able to build on that,” she said.
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