This week we wanted to point your attention toward a great article in the recent issue of ICMA’s Public Management magazine titled “Shoreline, Washington’s Story, Property Tax Increase Approved“. The article discusses the planned and structured process that the Shoreline, Washington community used to address funding needs. The process ultimately led to approval of an increase in the local property tax. Shoreline’s council members and staff had a plan in place for possible budget shortfalls for quite some time. Knowing that they would need the public to approve of some sort of tax increase if city services were going to continue as planned, they engaged the community early on. In the process they worked to anticipate what hurdles they would need to overcome. They engaged their citizens in prioritizing the services provided by the city. With a combination of tightening belts in city government, engaging citizens on priorities, and communicating what needed to happen to maintain services the city passed a tax increase with a majority vote and significant voter turnout.
This sort of well planned and staged process is important for building support on issues that could be controversial. The engagement process allowed for a collective wisdom to form around the need for city services and funding. Elections are often characterized by partisan bickering over competing data sets and statistics and citizens may lack the context to effectively evaluate competing claims. Here, in contrast, the engagement process provided broad understanding and agreement as to the action to be taken. As our previous post on the Data to Wisdom Continuum illustrates, the dialogue that occurs when engagement processes are effectively used leads to wiser collective choices. The Shoreline council and staff spent years engaging citizens and working to demonstrate why a tax increase was necessary. Their efforts helped citizens understand not only the data, they also reinforced community ties and built trust between citizens and their representatives in government.