City Uses Beans to Teach Public How Budget Process Works

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DES MOINES, Iowa — The city of Des Moines is seeking input from the public on what they want their tax dollars spent on, even as the city tries to educate the public on how the budget process works. On Thursday Night, the city hosted the first of three public meetings at the Pioneer Columbus Community Center. The city says it will work with residents to plan for the coming fiscal year, July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019.  Each meeting will cover the current year’s budget review, discuss the budget process and help residents understand where their property tax dollars go.

“I think, you know, we pay the taxes, we should be able to voice our opinion and they do allow you to do that,” said local resident and taxpayer Jo Burns, and that’s why she believes the #SpeakUpDSM budget engagement meetings are important.

“I attended last year`s and I thought it was real informative, if you really listen,” said Burns. “And, they give you plenty of opportunity to respond and get your opinion and that, and then I always go home and I email them back my other opinions too.”

Local Resident and taxpayer Anna Breese is learning about how the budget process works, and workshops like this one help increase her understanding.

“It was nice to know that 38% of our property taxes go to help schools,” said Breese. “I wish that there was more to go around for different public services like mental health and police and community outreach, but I know it’s hard to stretch the budget. I personally don’t mind my tax dollars going for that stuff, but I think it helps to see it all laid out exactly what your dollars are going for.”

And, that’s exactly what the city is hoping to accomplish by having residents take part in interactive city budget activities and exercises like deciding how to divvy up and spend a limited amount of beans.

“This is based on a $100,000 home and it`s kind of done from that point,” said City Finance Director Bob Fagen. “They get 110 beans, of that, they have to make sure the county and the school and the others get their pieces before they start, because sometimes people think when they pay their tax bill, it`s all the city, so once they get rid of all of those pieces, whatever`s left, they distribute it through the cart around there.”

And there’s only so many beans, or tax dollars to go around.

“Some take mores beans than others, but in the end they`re gonna find out there`s not enough beans,” said Fagen.

Fore more information on the city’s budget process, visit