By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
Last week, King County Executive Dow Constantine was joined by King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay and community leaders to celebrate the selection of 45 projects King County will fund under of its first participatory budgeting process.
The participatory budget process, approved by King County Council in 2021, allows communities to identify, discuss and prioritize public spending. Residents help decide how to spend money on capital projects (physical things that are bought, built, installed, or repaired) or programs and services.
Last week’s celebration marked the culmination of a community process that Constantine proposed just over a year ago. In a relatively short period of time, the King County Local Services Department worked with community members to set the rules for the new participatory budgeting program, solicit project ideas from the public, develop them, and then submit to a vote. Earlier this month, nearly 2,700 residents of Skyway, White Center, East Federal Way, East Renton and Fairwood voted for community-developed improvements that should be made to their neighborhoods.
Projects funded included a Home Repair Fund in East Renton, Lake Geneva Park Improvements in East Federal Way, a Splash Pad/Cooling Center in Fairwood, Down Payment Assistance Program, City Revitalization Project Skyway Company, White Center Food Bank “New Location Renovation Fund”, and Mental Health – Bereavement Support.
“We are here to celebrate the successful completion of the county’s first participatory budgeting vote,” Constantine said. “Formed a year ago and long after the pandemic, King County launched us on this uncharted journey that we had been planning for all these years. The purpose of the trip was to empower our unincorporated communities. The trip was rooted in the knowledge that historic racial inequalities persist in our unincorporated urban places like Skyway, like White Center and as a county, we wanted to directly address those inequalities.
“It’s not an idea that just happened,” Constantine continued. “It’s been almost two decades of discussions and work to put in place a participatory budget or something like it. One of the things that finally allowed us to do that was the creation of the Department of Local Services which is like the gateway to local government for unincorporated communities in King County.
As the pandemic brings inequality into even greater focus, government and unincorporated communities have worked together to create creative new measures to support and fund underserved communities and use that support to help those communities overcome the historical financial and cultural inequalities that have affected them disparately in recent years. years.
According to Zahilay, participatory budgeting offers communities the opportunity to fund initiatives that are important to them and to the future of their neighborhood.
“They say success is when preparation meets opportunity and the Skyway community has been preparing for decades, the Skyway community is organizing, mobilizing, feeding, housing, educating, preparing, been brewing for decades,” says Zahilay. “And along the way, we said we needed opportunities and we needed resources to keep doing the amazing things that we’ve already done. Participatory budgeting is one of those opportunities. Budgeting participatory is one of those opportunities to support the genius, the work, the preparation that is already happening at Skyway and other unincorporated communities.
Through this creative and relatively new process, the unincorporated communities of King County are ready to take on the work and responsibility they have undertaken, and their leaders are very proud of the efforts of their constituents.
“We did it! We completed our first-ever participatory budgeting process, and in the end, residents from different backgrounds used this opportunity to help shape improvements in their neighborhoods,” said Gloria Briggs, Manager of the participatory budgeting program “I couldn’t be more proud of our team, especially our CIBC members who met regularly on Zoom to give people a voice. It was not easy, but in a short time, we have worked collaboratively and with passion to create something that will have a lasting impact in our communities. Today is a day we should all celebrate!
While this is clearly a win for underserved communities in King County, Zahilay says this is just the next step in the process.
“Don’t get me wrong, this is a new and innovative process, so there will be a lot of lessons learned,” says Zahilay. “The lessons learned that will help improve the process along the way, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m so proud of the work that’s been done here.”