On the steps of city hall, residents from many different backgrounds came together Monday to launch an initiative aiming to get the public more involved in St. Petersburg's budgeting process.
The People's Budget Review is a network of local activists and concerned citizens who say a select few are deciding how the majority's tax dollars are being spent. With getting public input through this process, the group said city officials could make informed decisions on what the public actually wants.
"This is a grassroots campaign to give those who live and work in St. Pete a voice in the city’s budgeting process," said USF St. Pete student and People's Budget review organizer Christian Haas.
The goal of the group is to get 10,000 people to complete a five-minute survey on the city's budget before the Sept. 6 public hearing for the city's budget. The survey can be found online at PeoplesBudgetReview.org.
By the time the city hosts its budget summit on April 25, the group hopes to 2,000 people will have filled out the survey. As of Tuesday morning, a day after the launch, 133 have completed the survey.
Haas added that the initiative is an outlet for people to have a say before it is too late. Too often, he said, the public is too reactionary toward public policy. The People's Budget Review gives the public a chance to speak its mind before policy is made.
"A great number of people think that their sole duty of a citizen in a representative democracy is to simply vote – usually every four years," Haas said. "If you vote every two years they call you a supervoter. (However) it is not sufficient to tune-in (only) every couple years."
The budget review will "create an exchange of ideas among the people of St. Petersburg," said president of the St. Petersburg League of Women Voters Darden Rice. "Our goal is to unite all neighborhoods and ignite the fire of citizen participation. What could be better for democracy?"
Neighborhoods were represented on Monday by Council of Neighborhoods Association, or CONA, president Mike Gulley.
He said that while council of neighborhoods has its own budget review committee, the People's Budget Review would give the city a clearer sense of what the general public wants.
"Message is simple: balance the budget, don’t cut services, don’t put people on the streets ... don’t waste taxes," Gulley said. "Nothing complicated."
"I think the budgeting process is important. I think the city officials would like to have involvement from the public," Gulley added. "What may end up happening is that (the city has) it right. If not, they will get a sense of what the public wants."
After Monday's launch, the group posted this message to Facebook:
"We can do something historic here. If we put the budget process in the hands of the people, we will have achieved something that can be a model for others. So often we are consumed fighting against what we do not want. This is an opportunity to fight FOR what we do want! The public should determine how their money is spent. It's that simple!"
Groups represented on Monday included the League of Women's Voters, Awake Pinellas, The Council of Neighborhood Associations, Agenda 2010, City of St. Petersburg and the NAACP.