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City Wants to Make Equity Part of Budget in Every Department

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Rochester City Hall. File photo

Talking about equity isn’t enough.

The city plans to put its money where its mouth is.

Mayor Lovely Warren and City Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot announced Feb. 22 that the city is seeking an amendment to the charter that will require all departments to factor equity into their budget process.

The Budget Equity Program includes an equity tool that requires each department to convene an internal committee to evaluate equity implications in budget decisions. Each department then tracks those implications with annual benchmarks and assessments to “maximize equitable outcomes for underserved communities” which are determined with such factors as race and gender, and physical and mental ability.

“The city’s budget is a statement of its priorities and a blueprint for achieving those priorities,” Lightfoot said in a news release. “By codifying equity into the City Charter, every aspect, policy and procedure of city government works to abolish the systems that were actually designed to oppress more than half of our city’s population. The work of the city government should benefit the people it serves and this amendment will put all of City Hall in the business of doing that for the first time in our history.”

Warren and Lightfoot proposed the legislation on Jan. 28. An in-person public hearing, the final step before the mayor signs the legislation and it is adopted, is scheduled for 11 am. March 3 in City Hall Room 309a.

The Budget Equity Program is in line with other equity initiatives, such as the Race Equity and Leadership (REAL) initiative; the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE); the mayor’s Equity and Recovery Agenda (ERA); the Rochester 2034 Comprehensive Plan; and the Community Response to Executive Order 203 Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative.

Budget Equity Program bakes equity into decisions, policies, practices and programs that affect the process of formulating a department budget and the results of that budget. The program is used for the current budget under the mayor’s executive order. The legislation would change the charter so that future mayors would be required to follow it.

The Budget Equity Program is designed to eliminate barriers and ensure that resources go to the most vulnerable employees and residents. Progress is supposed to be tracked annually.

The program sets criteria for department heads or those preparing budgets. Required information includes department demographic data and answers to the questions of what the department will do to improve equity in the next year and in the next three years.

Department leaders also have to account for success and challenges, and state how they will address those challenges. They also have to document progress in affirmative action categories such as race, gender, disability and veteran status.

The budget proposal for 2021-22 must set two to three equity priorities and how the department will meet those priorities.

Furthermore, department leaders must spell out supplemental strategies to reduce inequities caused by the proposal and they need to report how they will assess the equity strategy and its expected outcome. Throughout the budget season, department heads will be expected to assess the needs of underserved, underrepresented and/or disenfranchised communities and incorporate those needs into the proposal.