And the Budget Winners Are …

Seven diverse projects — helping local students, trees, composters, pedestrians, and library users — were voted to share in almost $1 million of funding from Councilmember Brad Lander in a new budgeting process that involved the entire community.

This participatory budgeting process allows citizens to propose how their tax dollars should be spent and then vote on the proposals.

The projects in Lander’s 39th Council District receiving the most votes were: bathroom renovations at P.S. 124, $150,000; Brooklyn neighbors composting, $165,000; Council District 39 tree planting, $100,000; technology upgrades and improvements at P.S. 154/P.S. 130, $140,000; Prospect Park pedestrian pathway rehabilitation, $205,000; fixes to pedestrian hazards at the Prospect Expressway, $200,000; and library resources and community space at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Kensington branch, $80,000.

Lander and City Council colleagues Melissa Mark-Viverito, Eric Ulrich, and Jumaane Williams brought the concept of participatory budgeting to the citizens of their districts. Locally, Lander appropriated approximately $1 million of his discretionary funds toward the process.

[pullquote]Overall, participatory budgeting was a huge success.

[/pullquote]After Lander and his staff held five general assemblies throughout the district and received hundreds of ideas from residents, some 100 community members volunteered as budget delegates. The delegate committees were charged with reviewing, researching, and developing the nascent ideas into about 20 concrete proposals for a ballot. Working in teams, the delegates toured the neighborhoods of District 39, calculated costs, talked to residents, and met with representatives from city agencies.

On March 14, a participatory budgeting expo was held at the Park Slope Armory. Delegate committees pooled their artistic talents, and with markers, glitter, tape, and a lot of creativity, they presented the final proposals to residents of the 39th District. As curious neighbors wandered around the room, budget delegates showed off their proposals and played the role of grassroots political lobbyists, hoping to convince voters that their project was worthy of a vote. (A list of all the proposals and videos presentations is available at bradlander.com/participatory-budgeting-ballot-projects.)

During the weekend of March 31, more than 2,000 District 39 residents came out to vote, each one selecting five out of the 20 proposals. Everyone in the district was eligible to vote, regardless of immigration or voter registration status. The seven projects receiving the most votes will be prioritized for funding as part of the city’s fiscal year 2013 budget, which will be adopted in June.

Overall, participatory budgeting was a huge success for District 39. In addition to meeting more of their neighbors, Park Slopers experienced what the New York Times called “revolutionary civics in action,” a form of hyperlocal democracy. We are all winners, but as a delegate who introduced and designed one of the winning proposals — for pathway rehabilitation in Prospect Park — I can say that it feels great to get the winning votes!

—  Joni Kletter was a participatory budgeting delegate for District 39’s Parks and Recreation Committee and its Parks Improvement Subcommittee, and is a Civic Council trustee-nominee.

from the Spring 2012 Civic News 

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