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Citizen Budget: 2013 Year in Review

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Citizen Budget saw substantial growth in 2013. We launched a new website, participated in our first trade shows, and worked with over a dozen cities and towns across Canada. Citizen Budget is a flexible online budget simulator that municipalities use to gather resident preferences and feedback on the local budget in an easy, engaging and educational way.

New Features

We work closely with municipalities to tailor Citizen Budget to their unique needs. This year, several of the improvements that we initially offered to a single client have since been picked up by other municipalities and become core parts of the consultation tool.

Although residential taxes are a municipality’s primary revenue source, there is often much more flexibility in the other sources of revenue, such as user fees. Several cities may also want to consult residents on capital expenditures in addition to operating expenses. After a pilot with the Montreal borough of Plateau Mont-Royal, we’ve since offered this feature to other cities, including Edmonton and Yellowknife.

First used by Markham, Ontario, resident may now enter the value of their home and see how their own tax dollars are distributed among city services, before continuing on to the budget simulator. By translating the large numbers involved in a city budget to the level of a household budget, the budget becomes more relatable and understandable.

Citizen Budget has always communicated the impact of any change to the budget on the city’s finances, but it is equally important to effectively communicate the impact on the city’s services. While in some cases, the impact is directly linked to the question – for example, a question on the number of snow clearings per year – in other cases, the impact of an increase or decrease is less clear – for example, a question about the budget for fire services. We believe it is best to provide clear, specific, and concise information to residents up-front, to boost their confidence in proposing changes to the budget; the challenge, of course, is to avoid overloading the resident with information. We are piloting a new color-coded table to make this information easy to reference and skim.

Especially useful in consultations with long questionnaires, residents may now quickly review the budgetary choices they have made - whether to increase, decrease or maintain tax contributions to different services.

Client Highlights

In 2013, we launched 12 consultations across Canada. Some highlights from recent consultations include:

  • bilingual consultations in Dieppe, New Brunswick and Cornwall, Ontario
  • 559 budget submissions to Edmonton’s consultation in only 17 days
  • consulting residents on the solid waste levy and adult user fees for recreational activities in addition to residential taxes in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
  • matching the design and branding of the city website to create a seamless experience for residents in Markham, Ontario

Where to Find Us in 2014

We travelled to Vancouver in May to participate in our first Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Annual Conference and Trade Show and to Seattle in November for the National League of Cities Congress of Cities and Exposition. We look forward to attending the FCM event again this June in Niagara, in order to share our Citizen Budget service in pursuit of our mission to increase access to decision-making processes and make civic engagement simple, meaningful and fun. Contact us anytime at citizenbudget@opennorth.ca

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