Willmar's city council finance committee is giving the public there more ways to get involved in the budget-making process by allowing citizens who want to offer their perspective, their opinions, about the city's finances the opportunity to do so during the committee's public forum, or through phone calls or e-mails.
The brainchild of committee Chairman Denis Anderson, the practice gives the public a voice when it comes to finances and the budget process - a voice they can exercise without even leaving their home.
Anderson said putting this public forum at the front of the agenda is "an opportunity for citizens to give us some ideas they may have."
The truly unique part of the idea is the e-mail and phone options. The finance committee recently received its first public cybercomment - an e-mail from a Willmar resident suggesting the city consider looking into the possibility of contracting for services. That e-mail will be forwarded to city staff members, who will report their thoughts to the committee in December.
Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes said Willmar's budget process is different from Marshall's in that, in Marshall, the council as a whole develops the budget at numerous meetings, which are all open to the public, whereas in Willmar, the mayor and city administrator develop a proposed budget for review by the finance committee.
"Our council is directly involved in the development of a budget, and the whole process is open to the public," he said.
Byrnes said the idea of accepting e-mails and phone calls from residents is an "interesting" one and "something to consider."
The council should, indeed, discuss the idea of accepting the public's feedback by any means, especially during tough economic times when everyone's financial concerns are at their peak. By accepting phone calls or e-mails from the public, they would be giving Marshall residents even more opportunity to chime in. Appearing before the council might seem intimidating to some, and for those people this would be their way to let their voices be heard on issues that directly affect them. It would be a good idea to experiment with this and set up some sort of public hotline people could call, or a website link the public can go to give their two cents.
The city's next budget meeting is at 6 p.m. Thursday at Marshall Municipal Utilities and is an open meeting. The council typically holds these meetings on weeks opposite city council meetings.