To set the stage for his 2012 budget message, Alachua County, FL Manager Randall Reid quotes Lao Tzu: “Great trouble comes from not knowing what is enough . . .”
The challenge for citizens today, he says, is to decide the question: What is enough?
When are we paying enough taxes? When are we providing enough services? In a representative democracy, this is done by determining if there are enough citizens willing to pay enough taxes to generate enough revenues to fund enough services to sustain a quality community. There will always be needs for more services than we can provide in the eyes of some citizens, and we will always be discussing levels of taxation that are beyond the level acceptable to some citizens. Severe economic change, new state mandates, shifting demographic trends, and evolving community growth patterns are issues that require a reconsideration of the key question, “What is enough?”
Local citizens have been grappling with that question over the several months of Alachua County’s 2012 budget development through its “Courageous Conversations” citizen engagement workshops. Playing to packed houses this summer, the workshops are a series of five Peter Block–style three-hour conversations around the topic of community trends and fiscal budget issues around community priorities. They also give the county a chance to explain not only the budget but also the county’s role because, as the Gainesville Sun observed, sometimes “the lines are blurred to citizens.”
“These meetings provide citizens with an opportunity to be briefed on the financial condition of the county, ask questions, and most importantly engage with other citizens by taking part in a budget exercise to prioritize county programs,” Reid says in his budget message.
As citizens, we should not shy away from having serious conversations about the challenges we face as a community, our priorities, and how we should address them through public policies such as this budget document. These courageous conversations should be about what we want to achieve as a community and how to pay for those achievements. This should be a civil dialogue between those who recognize their individual differences but who are committed to the best interests of our community and achieving the delicate balance of what is enough.
The success of the Alachua County citizen engagement process is, he says, “a testament to Peter Block’s ideas … as well as to our citizens who have demonstrated an eagerness to be involved in their community.”
Read the complete budget document at http://www.alachuacounty.us/Depts/Communications/Documents/FY12BudgetMessageFinal.pdf
Home page photo: Big Mind Zen Center