On Thursday evening, the city of Des Moines held its annual #SpeakUp DSM Budget Meeting at Pioneer Columbus Community Center.
Scott Sanders, city manager for Des Moines, stated the purpose of this event is to educate citizens on what they can do during the budget proposal process.
“We want citizens to understand how they can insert themselves civilly into the budget process, it is a $650 million budget,” Sanders said.
After Sanders stated his opening remarks and introduced all members of the city council who were in attendance, Bob Fagen took the stage. Fagen, financial director for the city, summarized the city budget from the past year and highlighted a few of the city’s financial accomplishments. Some of the highlights were enhancing public safety such as hiring 13 additional firefighters, purchasing body cameras for all city police officers, and hiring a social equity coordinator for the city of Des Moines.
“I want illustrate our budget isn’t all from tax dollars,” Fagen said. “Only 54 percent of the budget comes from property taxes and remainder comes from other revenue pieces in the city.”
The main program of the budget meeting was an interactive game to show how the budget is created and distributed across all services provided by the city. Each group was given 110 kidney beans, representing $110,000. The goal of the game was to try and spread the beans evenly across the 24 different services. One of the biggest challenges of the game was that 40 of the beans must be placed in the school, county, and state budget and they couldn’t be moved.
Anna Bearse, resident of South Des Moines, appreciated the game because it showed exactly what struggles the committee has when creating the annual budget.
“I didn’t want to touch some areas [on the board] because they represented schools and hospitals,” Bearse described. “I was frustrated though because I wanted more beans to work with. There were two “free spaces” on the board and I wanted to use them, but didn’t have enough.”
Bearse initially found out about the public budget meeting in CitySource ,a newsletter the City of Des Moines sends out to their citizens.
“I wanted to get more involved with local and federal government,” Bearse said. “I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to do so and I knew I had been lacking.”
She was initially anticipating a meeting in a board-room style where citizens would give feedback on the proposed budget and then council members would vote. However, Bearse was pleasantly surprised to see the meeting wasn’t arranged like that and felt that she learned a lot about how the budget is created.
“I felt very informed. I still have a few questions, but now I know who to direct those questions to,” Bearse said.
Jessica Butler, budget analyst for Des Moines, was in charge of planning the annual #SpeakUp budget meeting. She stated the last several years the city has really tried to engage citizens during the budget process. They researched what other communities had done and how Des Moines could educate people on the process.
“Overall, I thought the event was very successful,” Butler said. “It provided clarity and showed people how to get involved with the budget process.”
There are two more #SpeakUp DSM Budget Meetings in the calendar year. The next one is on December 5th and can be watched on Mediacom, cable channel 7.