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Residents Of Unincorporated Areas Of King County Prioritize Public Funding Through New County Process

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Residents Of Unincorporated Areas Of King County Prioritize Public Funding Through New County Process

King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay

By Aaron Allen,

Last week, King County Executive Dow Constantine was joined by King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay and community leaders to celebrate the selection of 45 projects that King County will fund as part of its first participatory budgeting process.

The participatory budget process, approved by the King County Council in 2021, allows communities to identify, discuss, and prioritize public spending. Residents help decide how to spend money on capital projects (physical things that are bought, built, installed, or fixed up) or programs and services.

Last week’s celebration marked the culmination of a community-driven process that Constantine proposed a little more than a year ago. In a relatively short amount of time, King County’s Department of Local Services worked with community members to establish the rules of the new participatory budgeting program, solicit project ideas from the public, develop them, and then bring them to a vote. Earlier this month, nearly 2,700 residents of Skyway, White Center, East Federal Way, East Renton and Fairwood cast their votes for which community developed improvements should come to their neighborhoods. 

The funded projects included a home repair fund in East Renton, Lake Geneva Park upgrades in East Federal Way, a Splash Pad/Cooling Center in Fairwood, a down payment assistance program, a Skyway business revitalization project, White Center Food Bank “New Location Renovation Fund”, and Mental Health – Grief Support.

“We are here to celebrate the successful completion of the County’s first participatory budgeting vote,” says Constantine. “Formed a year ago and well into the pandemic King County launched us into this uncharted journey that we had been planning for all these years. The journey’s goal was to empower our unincorporated communities. The journey was rooted in the knowledge that historical racial inequities persist in our urban unincorporated places like Skyway, like White Center and as a county we wanted to take on those inequities directly.”

“This is not an idea that just happened,” Constantine continued. “It has almost been two decades of talking and working to get a participatory budget going or something that looks like it. One of the things that finally made it possible for us to do this was the creation of the department of local services that is like the front door of the local government for unincorporated communities in King County.”

As the pandemic shed even more light on inequities, government and unincorporated communities have been working together to create new and creative measures of supporting and funding underserved communities and using that support to help these communities overcome historical financial and cultural inequities that have disparately impacted them over the years.

According to Zahilay, the participatory budgeting provides an opportunity for communities to drive funding to initiatives that are important to them and the future of their neighborhood.

“They say that success is when preparation meets opportunity and the Skyway community has been preparing for decades, the skyway community has been organizing, rallying, feeding each other, housing each other, educating each other, preparing, preparing, for decades,” says Zahilay. “And along the way we have been saying we need the opportunity, and we need the resources to keep doing the amazing things we’ve already been doing.  Participatory budgeting is one of those opportunities. Participatory budgeting is one of those opportunity to support the brilliance, the work, the preparation that is already happening in Skyway and other unincorporated communities.”

With this creative and relatively new process unincorporated communities in King County are ready to embrace the work and responsibility they have undertaken, and their leaders are very proud of the effort their constituents have displayed.

“We did it! We completed our first-ever Participatory Budgeting process, and in the end, residents of different backgrounds used this opportunity to help shape improvements in their neighborhoods,” Participatory Budgeting Program Manager Gloria Briggs said. “I could not be prouder of our team, especially our CIBC members who met regularly over Zoom to give voice to the people. It wasn’t easy, but in a short amount of time, we worked collaboratively and passionately to create something that will have a lasting impact in our communities. Today is a day that we should all celebrate!”

While this clearly is a victory for under-served communities in King County, Zahilay says that this is just the next step of the process.

“Don’t get me wrong this is a new and innovative process so there will be plenty of lessons learned,” says Zahilay.  “Lessons learned that will help improve the process along the way but that doesn’t change the fact that I am so proud of the work that has been done here.”

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