Backseat Budgeter launched, allows residents to manage county budget

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Engaged Public, a Denver-based public policy strategy firm, today announced the launch of Backseat Budgeter for El Paso County, an easy-to-use interactive online budget simulation tool that educates citizens on the trade-offs involved in budgeting public dollars. Launched in partnership with the Colorado Springs Business Journal, the new online tool features the 2013 El Paso County General Fund Budget of $113 million and highlights the local impact of various revenue and spending options.

“The El Paso County Backseat Budgeter is a user-friendly tool that allows county residents to test how they would manage the budget,” said Brenda Morrison, partner at Engaged Public. “The Backseat Budgeter also is designed to look and feel like an online game, which helps break down the complexities of the budget in a fun and interactive way.”

To use the new public engagement tool, residents can go online to Backseat Budgeter at www.backseatbudgeter.com and select under “Featured Budgets” the 2013 El Paso County budget, set their own priorities, save their budget, view others’ budgets, and discuss ideas through online posts.

“By using the Backseat Budgeter to examine the dollars generated and spent in our county, citizens see a clearer picture of the difficult decisions we face in El Paso County,” said Ralph Routon, executive editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. “The challenging economy of recent years means we need to engage locally on budget priorities, whether storm water drainage infrastructure, replacing obsolete county vehicles or reinstating disease prevention programs.”

Through interactive pie charts, users of the El Paso County Backseat Budgeter get to provide input on spending priorities, such as public safety, public works, and public health. They can shift revenue streams, such as sales and use taxes. The ultimate task is to balance their version of the budget without violating laws along the way.

“This is an opportunity for citizens to learn more about county government and to provide valuable input about programs and services we provide,” County Commissioner Sallie Clark said. “The County’s budget is complex with a lot of moving parts and much of it is restricted money over which the Commissioners have very little discretions so the Backseat Budgeter looks specifically at the so-called general fund portion of the budget which provides most of the funding for public safety and transportation. We hope that citizens will find it informative.”

“This customized budget simulator directly addresses the county’s strategic plan goal of enhancing citizen understanding of civic services,” said Dave Rose, public information officer for El Paso County. “It goes a long way toward promoting participation, engagement and confidence in county government.”

By having its own Backseat Budgeter, El Paso County joins the City and County of Denver as a local government utilizing this tool. Denver’s simulator launched last fall. Both projects build on the success of the Colorado Backseat Budgeter to help Coloradans understand the tough choices in balancing the annual state budget. Engaged Public, which is known for its high-profile public policy projects, can customize Backseat Budgeter for any public budget in any location.

“Many Colorado residents are using the state version of the Backseat Budgeter to educate themselves about the state budget, take stances on budget issues, and petition their government officials,” Morrison said. “We also encourage residents of El Paso County to learn about the budget process so they can give guidance to their elected leaders.”

In addition to Backseat Budgeter, Engaged Public also designed and implemented TBD Colorado, a public engagement campaign initiated by Governor Hickenlooper that is unprecedented in scale and ambition, and Engaged Benefit Design, a program underway in Colorado to promote better informed patients and insurance coverage that eliminates co-pays for high-quality, proven treatments.