Dearborn, like many communities, is facing a budget crisis–that’s no secret. With continued spending over revenue, the city will be in debt by 2015.
But resident and law student Kristyn Taylor, for one, wasn’t going to sit idly by and watch the city she loves go broke. She wanted to be engaged in budget conversations. She wanted to understand what the city was spending money on and why. She wanted to help find solutions.
And she wasn’t alone.
Taylor was instrumental in developing Dearborn Residents for Accountability, a community group formed in late April around the idea of knowing what’s going on in their city.
“It was really simple,” Taylor said of how the group got started, citing a suggestion to start a discussion group from fellow resident Peder Blohm. “People had expressed an interest in it, and then the budget documents were released and people had a bunch of questions.
“It’s really clear that most people didn’t know what we were looking at.”
Taylor organized the group–both on Facebook at in personal meetings, held on weekends, in between people’s full-time jobs and other obligations.
With the May 29 adoption date looming for the fiscal year 2013 budget, Taylor and other members of Dearborn Residents for Accountability divvied up areas of interest–capital projects, city services, pensions and health care. The goal? Simply to understand the budget.
“It’s important that we’re very careful to not come across pro or anti anything; it’s strictly information and to just exercise our responsibilities as citizens,” said Taylor. “We’re not advocating for any one issue–we’re advocating for greater transparency and communication for everything.”
The hope is that it will spur everyone to be more conscientious of how and why the city spends money–both residents and city officials.
And it goes far beyond one year’s budget.
“When we started, it was just, ‘Let’s look at the budget and figure it out,’” Taylor said. “But it’s so closely tied to everything we care about in Dearborn. It’s telling us more about the priorities we have. Keeping track of the budget and staying aware of those issues are going to give us insight into where we need greater accountability and transparency.”
Due to her natural leadership and penchant for public speaking, Taylor realizes that she has become the face of Dearborn residents speaking out for issues they care about. But she stresses that it’s a community effort, and that she would love to have more people involved in the conversation.
“I’ve become the faceboard because I’ve been organizing meetings, but this isn’t just my project,” Taylor said. “So wherever we go, I want to make sure that the people involved want to go there.”
Her own hope is to “see us continue to keep track of the budget.”
“It’s not just about the documents,” she added, “but the communication and the conversations between elected officials and the residents so they can better understand each other.”