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Wu announces budget sessions

Public, City Council will have hand in shaping new budget

Anna Lamb

Last week, Mayor Michelle Wu announced a series of community “listening sessions” to take place through the end of the month, in which city residents will be able to weigh in on how Boston spends portions of its multi-billion dollar budget.

In conjunction with the Office of Budget Management (OBM) and the City Council, four virtual listening sessions are set to take place Feb. 15, 19, 23 and 25.

“This came about [through] the leadership of community partners, along with city councilors, to assure the City Council would have a larger partnership in ensuring our city’s dollars are equitably allocated according to the needs, interests and visions of our residents,” Wu said during an afternoon press conference at City Hall. “The community listening sessions represent an opening up of the process to residents from the very beginning.” 

In November, Boston voters made it clear with the passage of Ballot Question 1 that they wanted more say in how the city spends its money. The binding question ultimately gives city councilors, and in turn their constituents, a chance to propose their own budget instead of being handed a draft by the mayor and asked to make revisions.

Having spent time on the City Council herself, Wu reflected on the way the new process will hopefully bring in current councilors’ ideas.

“I truly value their partnership,” Wu said Thursday.

As part of this listening session phase, constituents will be asked to weigh in on the annual budget, federal recovery funding from the American Rescue Plan and the new participatory budgeting model.

This is the first step in designing the new budgeting process that will shake up a long-held tradition of strong mayoral power over the city’s purse strings.

While details are still cloudy, one thing is certain — District 7 Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, Ways and Means Committee chair, will be tasked with spearheading the Council’s side of the deal. She said Thursday that she’s excited for the process ahead.

“These sessions offer our city an opportunity to help inform, through the power of the purse, what policies we want to pursue and community enterprises we want to platform,” she said.

Among those eager to find out more about how the process, set to start this spring with community feedback in hand, will shake out is Andres Del Castillo, co-director of Right to the City of Boston — an advocacy group that pushed hard for the passage of Question 1.

“This is a first step in the right direction. That is exactly the intention that we wanted local government at all levels to take on, after what I think was a resounding message,” he said in an interview with the Banner. “And we’re really excited the process to begin for the city to explore what deep engagement and deep democracy looks like.”

Del Castillo said he hopes the city can take notes from other municipalities engaging the public in their budgeting processes, such as Cambridge or New York City.

“We look forward to being partners in developing out what that looks like,” he said.

Residents are encouraged to share feedback at one of the four virtual listening sessions, organized by City Council district groups. There will also be surveys available online.