CHRISTMAS BUDGETING -- Ways to control your spending this holiday season. Creators.com photo courtesy of Álvaro Daniel González Lamarque Xmas2014-06 CHRISTMAS 2014 Creators.com

Participatory Budgeting is a democratic process through which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. Cambridge's pilot PB project will for the first time, directly involve residents in the budgeting and City-building process, foster civic engagement and community spirit, and help ensure that the City's Capital Plan reflects the priorities of Cambridge residents.
Since its inception in 1989, over 1,500 city budgets around the world have undertaken Participatory Budgeting initiatives, including Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Vallejo, CA.
The City is setting aside $500,000 in capital funds for the 2014-2015 PB process. These funds will be used for one-time capital projects. Residents will brainstorm ideas for projects, develop them into proposals, and projects that are vetted by City staff and approved by the City Manager will appear on a ballot in March for residents to vote on.
Winning projects will be included in the FY 2016 Capital Budget for adoption.

CAMILLA, GA -- One local school got a big reward for being budget-friendly.

The computer class at Westwood School in Camilla got a $2,500 grant from Hamp;R Block for making successful budgets.

The students participated in Hamp;R Blocks Budget Challenge, a national program to help teens learn about money, and got in the top five schools in the country.

Their teacher says they will get even more practice budgeting--this time with the grant money.

Theyll be coming up with the budget and proposing what they think we should do in the budget breakdown in January and well start in on what gets approved, said Vicki Davis, the students computer teacher.

Hamp;R Block representatives say more than 2,000 other schools participated in the program.

Despite expecting less revenue, Rome city staff is still proposing only a .1-percent decrease in the general fund budget for 2015.

After passing and holding to a $26.8 million budget for 2014, Rome's proposed budget for next year is around $26,000 less, according to documents from the city's finance department.

The budget includes a 1-percent merit pay increase for city employees, while Rome Finance Director Sheree Shore noted most all revenue sources are expected to be below 2014 levels.

"This may be what we call our new norm," said City Commissioner Evie McNiece, chairwoman of the city's Finance Committee. "It is hard, but it is what we're seeing for the near future."

McNiece, however, did celebrate the point that the budget is balanced and would require little to no tweaking prior to the City Commission's vote at its Dec. 22 meeting.

Among the biggest hits to the city's revenue is a predicted 36-percent decrease in the motor vehicle ad valorem tax, almost double what had been previously estimated.

The tax formula was reconfigured by the state last year and allows drivers who bought cars after March 2013 to pay a one-time fee the first time they get their tag instead of an annual fee on their birthday.

Also expected to be on the decrease for 2015 are local option sales tax receipts, and police fines and forfeitures.

The City Commission has approved 3-percent increases to city water and sewer, and solid waste collection rates in the last month that will take effect starting in January.

A first reading and public hearing on the 2015 budget will be held at the board's next meeting, which is scheduled for next Monday, Dec. 8, at 6:30 pm in the commission chambers at Rome City Hall, 601 Broad St.