CLEVELAND (WJW) – A grassroots campaign of Cleveland residents is advocating for an innovative plan that would change how Cleveland spends some of its $500 million from the American Rescue Plan & Recovery Act (ARPA).
The goal is for residents to ultimately vote on how and where a portion of the funding would be invested.
Participatory Budgeting Cleveland (PB CLE) is leading the effort and plans to make its pitch to Cleveland City Council next week.
“It’s through the civic participation fund that Cleveland will launch the first ever citywide people’s budget process,” said Jonathan Welle, Co-Coordinator PB CLE. “We are asking that $5.5 million of the ARPA money coming to Cleveland, it’s about 1%, is decided on by the residents.”
The original ask was for $30.8 million to be set aside for public input. Advocates said it represented the 30.8% of Cleveland residents who live below the poverty line, among the poorest, largest cities in America.
If given the green light, residents said the new process of participatory budgeting would be more inclusive of new ideas from the people experiencing the issue that needs to be solved.
“The residents want this. Now we’re hoping our administrators want this and will support us as residents for a change,” said Robin Brown, a founding member of PB CLE. “It’s the resident’s idea coming to the table.”
Gwendolyn Garth, a local business owner supportive of the campaign, said it would encourage more residents to have input in the projects they want to see created in their neighborhoods.
“A lot of people are afraid to voice their opinion, afraid that somehow doors will be shut,” said Garth. “I’m looking at the soul of the city. What’s up with it? What’s up with the spirit? A lot of people aren’t participating.”
“This has never been done before. It’s civic innovation. It’s a new on-ramp to get people involved,” Welle added.
Once approved, a committee of Cleveland residents would work together to generate ideas.
“Residents show up to listening sessions. Over the course of six months, really motivated residents would get paid a small stipend to turn those ideas into full proposals with a budget,” said Welle. “They’d work with the city to decide how much it would cost, how long it would take to implement and then those ideas would go on a ballot.”
The Bibb Administration did not respond to a request for comment. However, the mayor previously announced a plan on how ARPA funds will be spent. It includes a Civic Participation Fund where input from all of Cleveland’s 17 wards can help identify and advocate for projects.
“It’s important that the residents know that the city officials can trust them, and it will blend a broken relationship between our elected officials and our residents,” said Brown. “We’re supposed to work together.”
Monthly reports on how Cleveland’s ARPA money is spent can be viewed here.