A few years ago Tony DeSisto ran for a seat on the Tampa City Council and lost but ended up serving on the city’s budget advisory committee. Month after month he watched as worthy city projects went unfunded because of fiscal constraints. In some case citizens said they would be willing to pay for these projects themselves.
DeSisto reached out to a political consultant named Jordan Raynor and together they launched Citizeninvestor.com, a “crowd funding” website for worthy city projects that cities can’t afford to fund.
Here’s how it works: municipalities and counties across the country to identify projects that have been scored and approved but for which the funds are not available. A description of the project is posted on line and citizens are given 60 to 90 days to pledge funds for the goal. If the monetary goal is reached, the credit card charges are released and the project moves forward. If not, the cards aren’t charged.
So far about 15 projects have gone through the process and 11 of them have been successfully funded. A recent example: Naperville, Illinois, where a nonprofit group had purchased a statue to honor Navy veterans. The city wanted to put it in a public park, but didn’t have the funds to build the pedestal. So Raynor and DeSisto posted a description of the project and $25,000 was raised to complete the project. On October 14, the “Spirit of the Navy” statue was unveiled at a public ceremony attended by 75 residents, including a number of veterans.
A current project concerns the struggling city of Central Falls, Rhode Island, one of a handful of American cities that have actually gone bankrupt. The bankruptcy left the city understaffed and underfunded. With a new mayor and a new spirit of optimism, the city is on the mend, but in the meantime, a small but worrisome problem is Jenks Park. The flimsy trash cans in the park keep tipping over, strewing garbage around the park and environs.
Central Falls turned to citizeninvestor.com to raise money to buy new, more solid trash/recycling containers that won’t tip over in high winds. The goal is to raise about $10,000 and wite co-founder Jordan Raynor is optimistic the goal will be reached.
“Really, we were trying to focus on two problems,” explains Raynor. “The first is, obviously, government doesn’t have resources to provide all these projects and services, and second, citizens don’t always have an effective way of telling government which public projects they care about. We built CitizenInvestor.com to be a crowd funding and a public engagement platform for government projects.”