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Grand Rapids invests $2M in community-proposed projects

Yellow, blue and red hands with the words "Participatory Budgeting Grand Rapids" underneath
City of Grand Rapids
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Community-led budget process invests $2 Million in Grand Rapids neighborhoods

The participatory budgeting initiative is a democratic process that allows residents to help determine how public funds are spent.

Grand Rapids has allocated $2M from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for community proposed projects across its three wards. The Participatory Budgeting initiative, which has been named PBGR, will act as a democratic process, allowing residents to help determine how the public funds are spent.

A volunteer steering committee, appointed by the city commission, is leading the charge and will be working to get proposals collected, developed and selected next year.

"We’re the first city in the Midwest to do this process, so we truly want to make sure that we’re building a foundation that’s going to create an equitable system and its going to be sustainable and be duplicated," committee member Doug Booth said.

The steering committee represents all three wards and said it's prioritized equity and grassroots organizing with the goal to remove barriers to access in the most under-reached areas of the City.

"When people are creating programs and policies, most times the people that it impacts aren’t at the table where decisions are made," committee member Lisa Knight said, "... but we're hoping that our community, as brilliant and informative as they are, are able to step up and speak to thoughts and ideas that they have."

Booth said this process is unique as it puts real money in the hands of real people to make changes in their own neighborhoods. The committee is allowing children as young as 13 to participate.

“This is their city as well," Booth explained, "...and with hope down the line, they’ll continue to be involved in the democratic process.”

The committee will guide engagement and ideation based on the following ARPA funding priorities:

• Infrastructure investments related to water, wastewater and broadband

• Evidence-based violence reduction strategies

• Remediation of lead paint or other lead hazards in homes

• Economic and health impacts of COVID-19 (includes assistance to households, small business

and nonprofits)

• Incentive pay to front-line workers

• Investments in housing and re-housing

• Addressing educational disparities

• Investing in healthy childhood environments

The PBGR process includes three main phases: Outreach & Idea Collection, Proposal and Voting & Idea selection. Project ideas will be reviewed under ARPA guidelines and feasibility of implementation. Winning projects will be submitted to the City Commission for approval.

The committee is still in its outreach stage, Knight saying they'll likely start collecting ideas in the new year.