Did you know that county government plays a key role in everyday life?
As a part of Dane County’s Engage Dane initiative to facilitate engagement between county residents and the County Board, county supervisors are piloting a new budget simulator for constituents to see how the county’s money is, and could be, allocated.
Supervisor Yogesh Chawla says the tool will help users who make adjustments to the online budget better understand the trade-offs county officials take into consideration when crafting the actual county budget.
“It really allows the community to get in there and to play around with the budget,” says Chawla. “[Users can] raise revenue, raise funding for different programs, but in order to balance the budget also to cut funding in other areas, so it really is a tool for the community to really get in there and understand the budget process.”
Over 60 local governments across the country use ‘A Balancing Act,’ but Chawla also says county supervisors have not spoken with others using the tool.
Milwaukee County has used the tool for three years.
Dane County Supervisor Patrick Miles says the simulator was introduced partially in response to one question:
“Oftentimes us supervisors, when we’re out talking with constituents, get questions about what is it that county government does, and it really all comes together in the budget,” says Miles. “
The budget reflects our priorities, our needs, [and] our values…but when you look at the document it’s hard to navigate and get your arms around, and this tool is an excellent tool at allowing people to see the budget in a digestible way [and] zero in on things that are [of] particular interest to them,” he adds.
Miles also says Dane County is the first legislative body using ‘A Balancing Act’ in the country.
Dane County is working with Polco, a civic engagement platform that has previously run policy polls and surveys for the County, to pilot the tool.
Polco CEO Nick Mastronardi says the tool offers more than just an intellectual exercise. Citizens themselves can give feedback on what the county’s priorities should be.
“A second benefit is the ability to use that input to inform actual policy outcomes; not just inform the residents, but have their input inform policy outcomes,” Mastronardi notes.
“So, what Polco does is help county officials see not only all the results, but then we do a couple verification steps on the back end with local verification lists so they can understand who feels what way. Are these actually residents of the county? [What are] the participation rates by the different districts of the county [or] by the different age brackets? And that verification piece, on top of the input and the inform is a valuable second benefit to the county,” he says.
Mastronardi also said that Polco asks for users to submit their name to ensure individuals aren’t voting more than once, but never shares individual data with the county or any other third party.
The County also released a video in conjunction with ‘A Balancing Act’ to further their educational efforts.
‘A Balancing Act’ is available here.