CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Millions of tax payer dollars go into city and county budgets every year, but the majority of the time most usually don’t get a say in how that money is spent. Starting next year in Mecklenburg County, all of that will change.
For the majority of December, Christine Edwards has been hosting in-person and virtual meetings to talk about the county’s new program.
“What we’re doing is we’re handing over the microphone,” she said. “We’re giving everybody a megaphone and saying 'hey, here’s your megaphone, let us know what’s going on so we can hear you.'”
Mecklenburg County is rolling out its pilot participatory budgeting program. This program will allow 10 to 12 residents from each district to pick a select amount of community projects that are funded in the county's upcoming budget.
“They’re taking the next step in terms of transparency and openness when it comes to participation,” Edwards said.
That’s important to Edwards because she remembers a time when that wasn’t always the case.
“I went to a neighborhood meeting, and one of the neighborhood leaders handed me a sort of crumpled, opened-up envelope, and she said 'I got this envelope, it looks like it’s from the city…it looks like its from the government and I don’t really know what it says,' and I looked at it, and I couldn’t even decipher what it was saying,” she said.
That meeting pushed Edwards into community engagement, and in 2018 she started Amplify Consulting, which specializes in community outreach planning and engagement initiatives. Edwards was awarded a 10-month contract to help the county implement this new program.
She’s teamed up with Enovia Bedford who will help with all the marketing using her agency Vett Deck.
“Most citizens, regular people never think about working with the government because it seems hard, it seems confusing,” she said. “It’s like, how do I get involved? So, we kind of wanted to stream line it and make it easy for everyone to participate and be a part.”
The meetings will help these women get the word out to find volunteers and ambassadors for this program. By next year, the tax payers can actually decide where their money ends up going.
Those selected for this program will spend the next several months working to create and select projects for each district. Projects selected will be considered for funding in the county’s budget set to be approved next June.
If you are interested in learning more about this program or submitting a project idea, you can find more information here. The cities of Durham and Greensboro also have participatory budgeting programs that residents can sign up for as well.