01/09/2013 by Alexandra Bjerg
Plan Monrovia: How one California city is making a lean budget work
As cities are being challenged to do more with less, city officials and residents share the same goal: ensuring that limited resources are being spent wisely. In Monrovia, they are working in tandem to do just that.
The city launched an innovative civic engagement plan that solicits community feedback regarding the prioritization of city projects and services to better inform the city’s allocation of resources.
Since 2008 like most cities across the state, Monrovia has experienced a decline in revenue compounded by a rise in expenses. As a result of a 25 percent drop in sales tax revenues, flat property tax revenues, and loss of redevelopment funds, the enclave due east of Pasadena has seen a 17 percent reduction in staff and $2 million in cuts to some of the city’s key programs.
“We are at a point where we need to determine the best use of our revenue and deployment of existing resources,” said Monrovia City Manager Laurie Lile. “In order to do that, as we make some tough decisions about programs-- whether or not we continue to provide them, consolidate them, or provide them in a different way-- we are reaching out to the community for their input.”
Through a strategic planning process designed to engage the community known as Plan Monrovia, the city is essentially asking all Monrovians to answer one basic question: “What should the City focus on during the next five years?”
Citizens interested in helping city leaders plan for the future have the opportunity to engage and collaborate with officials as well as with each other in a variety of ways. Residents can voice their opinions by attending a traditional community workshop, by responding to an open-ended survey found on their utility bill, or by submitting an idea on the website or via phone call, email, or text.
Through an interactive page on the project’s website, folks even have the chance to divvy up the city budget showing city planners exactly how they would allocate funding.
“I’m really excited by how many people we have interacting on our website; we’re getting some really good ideas” said Lile. “At first engagement was slow to start, but now we have 48 unique ideas, many of which also include additional comments and back and forth discussions between residents.”
One of the most popular ideas, as voted on by the community, submitted by Heather D7, recommends inviting local businesses, rather than the usual corporations, to open dining facilities at the future Monrovia Gold Line Metro Station.
Ideas generated through the project will be incorporated into the development of a five year roadmap for city services and programs, which will include the upcoming 2013-2015 budget.
Creating a truly transparent and interactive process through which all ideas could be shared and all voices heard was extremely important to city leaders. According to Lile, “it’s the difference between success and failure, between developing a successful strategic plan and one that doesn’t have any buy in from residents.”
Struggling with dwindling resources, cities are actively working to re-open the lines of communication between residents and city leaders to be able to leverage the power of crowdsourcing to develop innovative solutions to strategic challenges. Bringing residents into the decision making process, as Monrovia has done, empowers the community and fosters a culture of accountability and trust. But as Lile correctly notes, to be effective, the process must be transparent and the dialogue ongoing and sincere.
“I’m hopeful that even after the completion of our strategic plan we will be able to use this technology to continue to solicit resident feedback on all the other aspects of our service provision and all other ideas the community feels strongly about,” said Lile.