People’s Budget Cleveland is collecting signatures for a proposed charter amendment that would give residents a more direct say in how 2% of public money is spent on projects and programs in their neighborhoods.
What would the changes mean for Clevelanders? How does a ballot initiative campaign work? We answer some of those questions and more. Have additional questions? Send them to us. Signal Cleveland will update this FAQ as we learn more.
About the proposed charter amendment
What would the proposed charter amendment change?
It would add a new chapter to Cleveland’s charter that creates a process for residents to make more direct spending decisions. A portion equal to 2% of the city’s General Fund would be set aside each year, and residents would vote on how to spend it. The process would be run by a steering committee of city residents.
How much money would be dedicated to the People’s Budget each year?
A portion of the city’s annual budget would be set aside. The amount would be phased in until it reaches an amount equal to 2% of the city’s General Fund. In 2022, that would have been a little over $14 million.
- Year 1: $350,000 to cover administrative costs and begin implementing the People’s Budget process.
- Year 2: 1%
- Year 3: 1.5%
- Year 4: 2%
What is the difference between a charter amendment and a city ordinance or law?
Cleveland’s charter lays out rules on how the city government operates – kind of like a constitution. A charter amendment changes the rules the city has to follow. Ordinances create or change laws or approve the spending of money.
What kind of projects could the People’s Budget fund?
The money would support existing or new programs. It also would be used to pay for capital expenses, such as longer-term improvements to parks, buildings or other public spaces. The city would decide what amount of the money can be dedicated to each purpose. Neither category will be more than 60% of the total amount of funding. Projects would also be divided into two types: city-wide and neighborhood-specific.
How would residents participate in deciding what would be funded by the People’s Budget?
Cleveland residents 13 and older would be able to share ideas for projects, give feedback on ideas and vote on proposals. Residents 16 and older would be able to be appointed to the budget steering committee.
Who would be on the People’s Budget Steering Committee?
Ten Cleveland residents would oversee the People’s Budget. City residents 16 and older will be able to apply for the committee. Applicants under 30 and members of historically marginalized communities will be prioritized.
Would residents vote? Would it be like an election?
The Budget Steering Committee would decide how voting works. The charter amendment doesn’t set a specific process. The committee would develop the methods but they could be in person or online.
Who would pick the Budget Steering Committee members?
The mayor and city council will each appoint five members, and one member will be a city staff person hired to support the process. The amendment says the mayor and council should strive to appoint residents who represent the diversity of Cleveland regarding age, gender, race, geography, LGBTQ+ status, and socioeconomic status.
Would Budget Steering Committee members be paid?
The committee members would be paid $5,000 per year, which would be adjusted each year. Cleveland compensates members of other city boards and commissions between $7,200 and $8,900 per year depending on the number of meetings held. Committee members won’t be eligible for city healthcare or pension benefits.
Would Budget Steering Committee meetings be open to the public?
The committee would hold open meetings announced to the public and publish a record of its decisions. The charter would also require that the committee hold a public forum once a year for residents to give input on the participatory budgeting process.
How would the money be divided up?
People’s Budget funding would be split up by neighborhoods or clusters of neighborhoods that make up planning areas for the city. Residents would vote on both citywide projects and projects that are specific to their neighborhood. The charter amendment says the money would be divided up “in an equitable way using poverty data and information about historical and present-day social inequities.” It also says residents from every neighborhood will have the chance to vote for projects specific to where they live.
Who would help run this process?
The proposed charter amendment includes costs for staffing, similar to the Community Police Commission. The administrative costs are set at $500,000 to start and could include hiring a staff person in the mayor’s office or at a nonprofit to help manage the committee’s work and coordinate with the city. There also could be money spent on community education and engagement.
Where would the money come from?
Money for the People’s Budget could come from the city’s General Fund and from its Capital Budget. City services are supported from the General Fund, including police, fire and EMS, recreation centers and garbage pick up. The Capital Budget is used for bigger projects or purchases with a long term use or benefit, such as a bike path or park or safety lighting.
Could other services be cut to set aside money for the People’s Budget?
Yes. All budgets are about choices and priorities. Setting aside money for a People’s Budget could mean that other spending gets cut – it depends on what the city’s budget is each year. That changes based on the money the city brings in from taxes on income, property and sales.
Would the money in the People’s Budget for that year all have to be spent in that year?
Money not used in one calendar year would stay in the budget and could be used in other years. Each project would be put in place within 18 months. The city would have to report to the committee every six months on the progress of each project.
Does Cleveland City Council still get to approve the projects/spending picked by the People’s Budget process?
Normally any contract or expense topping $50,000 must be approved by City Council. The charter amendment exempts the People’s Budget spending from that process. The contracts would still have to go through the city’s Board of Control.
Does the city have to follow this process if voters pass the charter amendment?
Yes. The charter works like a constitution – it must be followed. Some decisions will be left up to city administrators and the steering committee.
About the ballot initiative process
What is People’s Budget Cleveland?
It’s a grassroots group of residents and organizations formed in 2021 to advocate for residents to have a more direct way to make decisions about how public money is spent in Cleveland. Originally called Participatory Budgeting Cleveland, the coalition of more than 900 people and 17 community groups promotes what’s called participatory budgeting, a process that builds civic power and engagement.
How many signatures does People’s Budget Cleveland have to collect?
Cleveland’s charter requires signatures from 5,907 people, or 10% of the number of people who voted in Cleveland’s last general election. The group backing the initiative aims to collect between at least 12,000 and as many as 15,000 signatures.
How long is this process?
People’s Budget Cleveland is collecting signatures starting May 26 and will submit petitions to the Board of Elections and the Cleveland City Council Clerk by July 5.
What if I already signed a petition?
You can only sign the petition once. A second signature will not be counted.
Are canvassers for the ballot initiative paid?
People’s Budget Cleveland will have both volunteer and paid canvassers collecting signatures.
I don’t live in Cleveland. Can I sign?
Only Cleveland residents who are registered to vote in the city may sign the petition.
Do I have to be registered to vote to sign?
If you live in Cleveland but are not registered, you can register to vote when you sign the petition. Your address on the petition must match your registered address for voting. The campaign will submit any new voter registrations on an ongoing basis before the petition is filed.
Would this be for the November 2023 election?
How many votes does this need to pass?
If the initiative gathers enough signatures to make it to the ballot, it needs a majority of the vote to pass.
Who are the Cleveland residents representing the People’s Budget petitioners?
They are Cleveland residents: Andre P. White, Aleena M. Starks, Jonathan D. Welle, Erika L. Anthony, Nicholas Ngong, Molly K. Martin, Delores G. Ford.
How much money has been raised for the participatory budgeting campaign?
PB Cle has raised $80,000 from local organizations since 2021. It said it has an additional $30,000 in commitments.
Which groups are backing this effort?
The following groups have signed on as supporters of the ballot initiative:
- Building Freedom Ohio
- Cleveland VOTES
- Ohio Working Families Party
- Showing Up for Racial Justice
- Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless
- The Neighbor Up Network.
- Our Revolution Ohio
- OPAWL – Building AAPI Feminist Leadership
- Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition
- Young Latino Network Cleveland
- Concerned Citizens Organized Against Lead
- Kings & Queens of Art
- NAACP Cleveland
- The Spot Youth Empowerment
- Black Lives Matter Cleveland
- ThirdSpace Action Lab
- Northeast Ohio Left PAC
[Note: Neighborhood Connections supports Cleveland Documenters.]
Where can I find more information?
About participatory budgeting
Do other places allow resident participation in deciding how to spend tax money?
The People’s Budget would follow a participatory budgeting model. Different methods have been used worldwide. Places using participatory budgeting include Chicago, New York City, and Grand Rapids, Mich.
What has a participatory budgeting process been used for in other places?
Participatory budgeting has been used to direct tax money to support programs that work with domestic violence survivors and for neighborhood improvements such as better street lighting. PB CLE says 510 participatory budgeting processes in the United States have helped direct $359 million in public money.
Gennifer Harding-Gosnell and Mary Ellen Huesken contributed to this FAQ.