2017 Finalist
City of Hampton, VA
March 30, 2018
  • Mary Bunting and Chris Osby Snead presenting at the Innovations in American Government Awards Finalist Event, May 17, 2017.

Hit by the housing decline that crippled revenues in 2010, the city of Hampton, Virginia, faced a 5-percent cut for fiscal year 2011. Seeking both public input and buy-in to the plan to manage the budget without a significant cut in value services, the city manager’s office flipped the process of deliberation and began seeking public input at the beginning of its budgeting process, and dramatically expanded programs to engage the community. The “I Value” effort sought to determine and build on residents’ values, aggressively campaigning via social media, e-newsletters, neighborhood organizations, cable interviews, ads, and fliers for public contribution. Input was gathered through community meetings held on weekends and evenings in different sectors, informal chats with neighborhood and civic associations, online chats and social media engagement, traditional drop boxes with comment cards at public hearings, and 311 calls from residents. Because of this engagement, the proposed budget cut 5 percent on the city’s bottom line, yet drew little opposition. As the financial crisis continued, the I Value effort expanded, and each year the polling questions went deeper. Fiscal year 2011 focused on needs versus wants; fiscal year 2012 focused on broad service levels and whether they should be maintained, reduced, or eliminated; and in fiscal year 2013, specific cuts were put on the table, and residents rated whether individual cuts were acceptable or unacceptable during community meetings. Despite significant cuts, the proposed budgets once again met little opposition. Finally, in fiscal year 2014, the city faced another decline in home values and revenue, but data from previous I Value cycles showed further cuts were not acceptable. There was a clear choice: increase revenues or continue to cut programs and services that residents valued. Overall, participation in the input process increased by another 60 percent, and at the meetings, more than 90 percent supported some sort of tax-rate increase. The city manager and council scaled down the top proposal but maintained some money for investment, and ultimately the budget passed with a 20-cent rate increase. Since then, the city manager’s team has added the capital budget planning to input. Residents voiced preferences for fire stations, flooding controls, and prioritized parks. When a large contingent asked for a 50-meter swimming pool, the city commissioned feasibility and cost studies.