An informed citizenry is an engaged citizenry, and an engaged citizenry is less likely to be disappointed by the work and priorities of their elected officials, right? Well, that’s the theory.
Ada County and the city of Boise are getting closer to approving their budgets for fiscal year 2016-2017, which begins Oct. 1. A lot of work goes into these documents over several months each year. Websites for Ada County and Boise reflect this and progress. But “we the people” don’t seem to care as much about the process as one might expect, and that seems surprising given the fact we’re paying for it.
The scrutiny we assign to personal financial affairs doesn’t seem to transfer as readily to the accounting of our governments. We might feign concern at times, but how many of us are planning to attend the public hearings scheduled for Tuesday? Ada County and Boise officials lament that, if this year is true to form, not many will.
Coincidentally, and regrettably (if you had any interest to go to both), public hearings on these two budgets are occurring at the same time Tuesday.
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The $228 million Ada County budget will be presented at 6 p.m. at the Ada County Courthouse, inside the hearing room on the first floor. Time is set aside for members of the public to comment or ask questions for up to three minutes apiece.
The $599.5 million Boise budget will be presented at 6 p.m. at Boise City Hall. Citizens interested in commenting will have three minutes there as well to address the City Council. A sign-in sheet will be available at the meeting.
Though both the county and city say they will accept comments outside of these times (over the phone or through emails, for instance), Tuesday is a golden opportunity to ask your questions while all of these officials are there to listen or provide answers.
We are always hopeful more people will vote and more people will get involved in all levels of their government. We look for practical or even magical ways to enhance engagement, but often find ourselves as puzzled as our elected officials.
Ada County Commissioner Jim Tibbs agrees engagement might be enhanced if there were more public hearings at earlier stages in the process. For much of last month elected county officials (the sheriff, treasurer, assessor and others) participated in a process where they made their pitch for money to a Transformation Board. Though this weeklong process is open to the public, he thinks it would be helpful if in the future time was set aside each day during that week for the public to offer comments — rather than wait for the official overall hearing, such as the one Tuesday.
Tibbs also thinks the county should consider taking on two years instead of just one when formulating budgets. That way they wouldn’t have to start from scratch each year and it might make it easier for the public to follow along.
We would add a few more ideas: how about keeping citizen’s abreast of budget talks through social media, or inviting the public to sign up for email updates? A new Ada County commissioner will join Tibbs and David Case following the Nov. 8 general election (they are seated in January). We’d like to see the two candidates, Democrat TJ Thomson and Republican Rick Visser, offer their ideas about how to open up the process and get more public input.
We hope you will attend one of the budget public hearings Tuesday. If you come away with ideas to engage the public more in the process, please share them with Editorial Page Editor Robert Ehlert at (208) 377-6437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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