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Voters may get say in how tax money is spent in Buffalo

Buffalo is about to participate – in a small way – in a growing national trend that gives residents a direct vote on how a slice of their tax money is spent.

The Common Council, after negotiating Tuesday with the Brown Administration, shifted $150,000 from the city’s 2015-16 budget into a “participatory budgeting” project.

The Buffalo “participatory budgeting” model is still being worked out, but it basically gives residents a chance to discuss during community meetings how they would like to see a set amount of government money spent. The ideas are vetted by a community steering committee to determine such things as whether the proposals are already being done, whether their price-tags fit in the budget and whether the projects are otherwise feasible, said Natasha Soto, a community coordinator with the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York.

A list of suggested items is then put to a vote to determine what gets funded.

New York City is among cities that currently have a participatory budgeting project in place.

Participatory budgeting has been pushed in Buffalo by a group of local organizations, particularly the Clean Air Coalition. The group initially asked the administration to set aside $5 million in Mayor Byron W. Brown’s 2015-16 budget for a participatory budgeting project. The mayor’s proposed budget did not include any money for the project.

In the Common Council, Delaware District Councilman Michael J. LoCurto spearheaded the effort to get a more modest allotment included in the budget.

Council leaders met with administration officials Tuesday morning, working out an agreement on participatory budgeting and a few other items before the Common Council later in the day unanimously adopted the 2015-16 budget. The Council also shifted $60,000 for additional police training. The money was taken from various line items, and will not require any program or staff cuts in the other areas, officials said.

“It’s a win for the citizens,” LoCurto said of the money for the participatory budgeting project. “It’s a small amount, but it’s a start, and hopefully it will grow.”