The 2017 Geneva Municipal Budget Proposal was made available to the public today, and there are encouraging signs that the City will be taking some small (and potentially big) steps towards addressing income and social inequality in our community.
Aligning Our Values
The section entitled “Introduction“ describes how the City will align our values (as detailed in the Geneva Comprehensive Plan) with our actions and opportunities. The first value, “Equitable,” is described on page 21:
“Geneva is an incredibly diverse community, with a range of ethnic and cultural identities that contribute to an amazing quality of life. Staff sought out opportunities to expand access to City programs and services to individuals of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and of all ages and abilities.”
As detailed in the recent Geneva Believer post “Hit the Brakes: The Grand Plan Delayed,” there are concerns that the City won’t adequately fund the Economic Opportunity Task Force, one of the five primary initiatives in the plan. However, the proposed budget recommends that the City invest in the launch of the Task Force in 2017:
“Economic Opportunity Programming: In alignment with the comprehensive plan’s stated goal of developing opportunities for economic mobility, staff has recommended an investment in capacity building programming for the inaugural appointment of the Economic Opportunity Task Force. Funds are proposed to support development of a planning and programming framework to launch economic mobility efforts.”
In the General Fund section, the proposed amount for Economic Opportunity Programming is $12,000 for 2017. While this is an encouraging piece of information, the amount of work and responsibility that the Economic Opportunity Task Force is tasked with performing will likely require a more substantial investment. Still, compared to the amounts being allocated to other partner agencies, $12,000 is more than might have been expected.
In addition, the City is proposing an increase of funding for the Geneva Human Rights Commission ($4,250 in 2016 to $5,000 in 2017) and doubling the amount for the LGBTQ support organization Center of the Finger Lakes ($2,500 in 2016 to $5,000 in 2017).
Again, these amounts really aren’t “enough,” but they do represent at least some recognition that these social justice organizations are valued partners in providing a voice for the under-served in our community.
It’s also possible that these three organizations could end up benefiting from the $10 million grant that was awarded to the City of Geneva by New York State’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI).
On page 23 of the “Introduction” section, “Downtown as a Living Laboratory” describes some potential initiatives and efforts that will be funded by the generous DRI grant from the state. The concept of the “living laboratory” is that initiatives which address inequality (among other goals) can be tested and developed in our downtown, and then implemented across the city.
“The 2016 award of $10 million to support downtown revitalization efforts provides the City with an opportunity to test many of the concepts highlighted in the comprehensive plan. Funds will be provided for a range of opportunities in downtown Geneva that can be replicated, not only in other downtowns across the region, but also in other residential and commercial areas throughout the City.
While information is still being developed on how program funds can be used, the City’s application for funds calls for investments across multiple disciplines that, when successful in downtown, can be expanded to our corridors, residential neighborhoods,and other business districts.”
The following areas were specifically mentioned in the City’s application for the grant, providing an exciting opportunity for the City to develop novel and forward-thinking approaches in addressing the needs of everyone in Geneva:
“Poverty Eradication: The Comprehensive Plan and the DRI application both reference Geneva’s challenging poverty rate as a barrier to our future success. Models for poverty eradication, as well as support programming for our most economically disadvantaged residents, can be tested in downtown for expansive use Citywide.”
Geneva has the potential to be at the leading edge of programming that works to ameliorate poverty, and there’s a possibility that the Economic Opportunity Task Force could play a role in these efforts, especially with the expected funds available from the grant. However, the work has yet to begin, and it will require dedicated citizens to hold the City accountable and assure that this poverty eradication effort is authentic and effective.
“Workforce Housing Opportunities: The downtown housing market has exploded in recent years. The City is at a critical juncture for planning to be inclusive and affordable to regional workers who would enjoy living in the downtown district. Concepts tested in downtown have the opportunity to be rolled out in other residential neighborhoods Citywide to ensure that our future growth does not displace long time residents.”
Maintaining housing that is “inclusive” and “affordable” is unquestionably an honorable and imperative goal. And ensuring that “future growth does not displace long time residents” could be interpreted as “avoiding gentrification and concentration of poverty,” also critical to the lives of those at the lower end of the income spectrum, as well as the whole of Geneva’s population. These are all essential housing objectives for any City that truly values equity and quality of life for all of its residents, but again, these ambitious plans will not be realized without devoted and perceptive citizens overseeing the process.
Page 24 (“Conclusion“) incorporates some powerful and even inspiring words about the future of Geneva:
“Geneva today sits at a great precipice. We are on the right side of an incredible momentum that is carrying us forward at an amazing pace.
“It is up to us, as leaders of our City, to ensure that we not only capitalize on our momentum, realizing the opportunities that have been laid before us; but that we do it in such a way that our core values are clearly recognizable—such that the end product of our growth is a place in which our most economically disadvantaged residents live and enjoy Geneva alongside of our most prosperous.”
I would offer that it is also up to the people of the Geneva to help keep our leaders on point and to remind them at every turn that their responsibility is to lead us in the direction that we are leading them. The Comprehensive Plan, the 2017 Municipal Budget Proposal, and the Downtown Revitalization Initiative are, in many ways, reflective of the community’s collective vision, and it’s up to the community to help see it through.