Grants In Aid

The city council in my town has struggled with how to do funding of groups in the community that need help.

In the past I’ve seen city council go down list and wrestle with which group gets how much money. And I’ve seen them try to distance themselves from the process by funding a foundation that doles out money and develop a Fee-For-Service agreement with some of the entities.

Needless to say this does not satisfy everyone (an unattainable goal in the real world) and some point out that the city is shirking it’s responsibility and turning it over to an unelected body with possibly less accountability than an elected one.

This conversation has popped up again.

While I haven’t been participating I have been paying some attention. And this evening I had an idea …

How’s this for an idea:

Create a section on the city’s website for Grants In Aid.

Each group or project that requires funding puts together a package that explains who they are, what they do, how much they want, why they need it / what they will do with it.

The city puts up an explanation of how this works and how much they have budgeted for G-I-A.

At a predetermined start date this all goes live.

Everyone who pays taxes can use their tax roll # as a log in ID. Or some ID that came with their tax package. Or they get the log in code once they pay their taxes. The idea being that only those who actually pay taxes get to participate since it’s their money being spent.

Once they log into the system using that code they are presented with a list of requests to study. And they get to allocate how much of the funds they would give to each request until all the money is used up. Then they press the Submit button. (ok maybe a submit button might be redundant) They can come back again and revise their figures any time they want.

This goes on for a period of time, say 3 months. At the end of that period the site no longer accepts log ins.

Now the city has a set of figures from the taxpayers showing their desires regarding GIA funding. How they deal with that could be up to them or, if the councillors would prefer, could be directly determined from the results.

For instance the allocations from all the taxpayers on any given request could be averaged to come up with a figure. I can’t say that this would result in a sum that works out to the GIA fund but it would show which requests hold the most importance to taxpayers who feed the fund.

One possibilty: all the averages, A1, A2, A3 … to An could be added up to get a total, let’s call that Tavg. Then each request’s average could be converted into the ratio Ra of Tavg that it represents. That way all the fractions would add up to 1. And then the individual fractions would be fractions of the total GIA fund.

Example:

Let’s say the GIA fund is GIAF=$100,000

Let’s say that there are 6 requests (I know that’s a low, low number but it makes the example easier).

And let’s say the averages are A1=22,000; A2=15,300; A3=7,500; A4=11,400; A5=56,000; A6=37,400

GIAF      $100,000.00

Request Average Ratio Fractions (in dollars)
A1 $22,000.00 0.147058824 $14,705.88
A2 $15,300.00 0.102272727 $10,227.27
A3 $7,500.00 0.05013369 $5,013.37
A4 $11,400.00 0.076203209 $7,620.32
A5 $56,000.00 0.374331551 $37,433.16
A6 $37,400.00 0.25 $25,000.00
Totals $149,600.00 1 $100,000.00

I’m not saying that this would satisfy everyone but it would give city council a way to put the allocations at arm’s length with the values determined by the taxpayers.

Maybe it’s an oddball idea – I have lots of those. Maybe it would be difficult to explain. A way to give those taxpayers that don’t do the Web would have to be provided. Software would have to be written.

But everything needs work to make it function.

Just a thought.

UPDATE:

In shopping this idea around I’ve had some feedback.
One point made was regarding ‘gaming the system’.

Let’s say everyone in a particular group gave all the money to that group’s request. And got all their friends and neighbours to do the same. How would the rest of the community feel about that?

Well the community at large would likely be unhappy and, I’d hope, that they would then make their unhappiness known (and felt) to the group that gamed away the money.
Unfortunately it would also result in people pushing council to give up on the idea … and that would be unfortunate.

So – How can we make it relatively impervious to being gamed?

I’ve thought out various ploys but I keep coming back to the basic requirement that the system be simple enough that most people, as close to everyone as possible, can understand it. Because if it is understandable it is not scary. If they are not afraid of it they won’t be so quick to reject or distrust it.

This is important because when you start coming up with new ‘rules’ and ‘twists’ to try to close possible loopholes you do two things: You make it harder to understand AND you create a loophole that a clever person can find and exploit. So once that loophole gets found you add a new ‘rule’ to cover that but inadvertently create another new loophole. Eventually you have a system that only a scholar or lawyer can understand and no one really trusts anymore. Which is what we are trying to get away from …

So instead of trying to prevent the situation above from being possible I suggest that the reward for that behavior be reduced.

There is no way anyone can Surf (in water) here so I’ll pick that sport as an example that shouldn’t offend anyone locally.

In the first version of the idea the Surfers’s Waveriders Club could game the system and get the lion’s share of the the GIA Fund for their new clubhouse. And the rest of the community would be angry but so what – the surfers get their clubhouse funded.

What if the GIA Fund was split into a GIA-Recreation portion, GIA-Social Service portion, GIA-Arts/Culture/History portion and a GIA-Miscellaneous portion and any given group or project could only ask for funds in one category?

That way the surfers could still game the system but they’d only be hogging the largest share of the GIA-Recreation portion. None of the GIA-Social Service money could go to them. Nor any other the money from the other GIA fund portions.

So people in town would still get angry with them but the amount of money they’re getting in return would be smaller.

How the various portion sizes would be determined might be something left to council or possibly derived from public input, it’s not the main point of this idea.

And while this modification doesn’t prevent some group from ’gaming the system’ it maintains simplicity and understandability. If the system is live, transparently giving ‘final results’ as input is posted, continuously used and discussed during it’s ‘live period’ then there are numerous benefits.

  • It engages the population in an aspect of civics that they should be paying more attention to – how their tax dollars support the community.
  • It increases the communication and attention between the elected body and those who elected them.
  • It makes democracy more participative.
  • It makes a tax related part of government transparent and understandable.

The only other thing that comes to mind right now is the ‘Miscellaneous’ portion.

  • Would it lead to specious requests because there’s money there?
  • Should that portion be allowed to have its money thrown at some other project in some other category if there are no desirable requests in ‘miscellaneous’ from an individual tax payers point of view.

So it’s an evolving concept …

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2 Responses to Grants In Aid

  1. Gina Burroughs says:

    Interesting solution concept Les; worth exploring I think. I wonder about the acceptance of the distinction between property tax payers and non-property owners. Currently non-resident property owners can vote in the municipal election as can non-property-owning residents. I like the idea of using the existing property tax account access code.

    • xamble says:

      I can see that there might be some people who can vote but do not pay property taxes that would want to be included.
      I also can see that there would be property owners who pay taxes that would rather not have someone who isn’t paying to be deciding.
      So I’m working off a sort of reverse user-pay system, call it payers-choose.
      Voted in reps, council, decide on how much of the budget goes to G-I-A but payers (those with ‘skin in the game’) choose where it goes.
      If you want to be in that end of the game then ‘buy in’ by investing in the community with a home of business or both.
      I could even see some wanting the amount of decision making power related to how much taxes they pay but, off the top of my head, I’m at a loss as how weighting like that could work. And explaining it to the users would just add a level of complication. And some might see that as a weird sort of noblesse oblige (with unpleasant class system connotations).
      But it’s just a suggestion off the top of my head.
      Thanks for the comment though. And any modifications or augmentation to the idea would be welcome.

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