Friday, February 22, 2013

Township of Langley Online Budget Simulator

I was browsing the Township of Langley's website and came across an interesting tool that they’ve posted online. The Township’s Budget Simulator allows you to set some spending priorities for items such as protective services, environmental protection, and transportation management; all while balancing a $350 million budget. Beside the budget simulator, there are a series of questions that you can answer on “Top of Mind” issues. The simulator and questionnaire can be submitted to the Township. I have no doubt that this will be used to shape future budgets in the Township.

I think the simulator is a great tool and a great first attempt at online citizen engagement. I do feel that the tool could have a few more features. For example, the simulator doesn’t allow you to cut or increase spending on core Township services, it only seems to include “extras”. Also, the tool doesn’t give you the ability to adjust taxation revenue. While I know the simulator shouldn’t become overly complex, I think it would be useful if it had a few more general expense items and allowed you to adjust taxation revenue amounts. At the end of the day, I have to give the Township credit for trying out innovative ways to engage with its citizens. I hope that an improved version of this tool comes back in future years and that the Township continues to find new ways of providing two-way communication and engagement with its citizens.

I remember that TransLink did a similar online process around its budget to see if people would be willing to pay more money for improved transit service. The results showed that people would tax themselves more to get more service. I think that when people do simulators like one the Township has made available, they see that local governments aren’t rolling in money and that it cost money to improve service. In my experience, it seems that people prefer improving service to cutting service.

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