Dec 18 2014

Baltimore Makes City Budgeting a Public Affair

A new interactive website gives citizens a voice in the budgeting process and a better understanding of how decisions are made.

The city of Baltimore is looking beyond the walls of government for ideas on how best to balance its books and resolve a projected $30 million shortfall in fiscal 2016.

An interactive website launched Wednesday enables residents to view the city’s budget and expenditures and take a shot at balancing the city’s budget based on their priorities and preferences. The budget simulator shows the range of services, such as education and public safety, funded by the city and the cost of those services. Residents can increase, decrease or maintain funding levels and automatically see how their changes affect the deficit.

City officials will take resident feedback into consideration as they develop fiscal 2016 budget recommendations.

"City government is most effective when it receives input from the citizens it represents," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in statement announcing the new site. "When residents are involved in the process, we can make better, more informed choices. As we continue to grow the city, we will continue to offer tools like Budget Live! that increase transparency and enable residents to actively participate in making Baltimore a stronger city."

Budget Live! Takes Open Government to the Next Level

What sets the site apart from other open government sites is that it’s written in plain language and contextualizes many of the numbers. Graphics and presentations explain in layman’s terms the current budget situation, why there is a projected shortfall and what residents can do to help. The website offers an online presentation of the budget outlook, complete with a narrative and video from the mayor and the city’s budget chief, Andrew Kleine.

“We could just resort to across-the-board cuts to all city services, but where would that get us?” Kleine said in the presentation. “Across-the-board cuts protect less valuable services while punishing services that deliver for citizens.”

He explained that the city uses outcome budgeting, which aligns resources with the services that perform well and provide the most value to residents. This process also helps city officials make tough decisions on where to cut funding and why.

The website includes a call to action that encourages residents to participate in the mayor’s budget workshops in January and engage with the city on Twitter and using the budget simulator.

Joseph C. Justice Jr./thinkstock