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Residents will tell Councilman where to put funds

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Want trash receptacles on major boulevards? Want the lights on Linden and Baisley Boulevards to be in sync and stop backing up traffic? Should there be a speed bump by the Senior Center for pedestrians crossing? Should there be drainage for the flooding in the area?

Because the answer to these questions are what residents say need to be addressed in their District. They came out for the information session for the upcoming Participatory Budgeting process for District 27 on June 12. Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a voting process in which residents get to vote on how discretionary funds allocated to the Council member should be used. It was a full house of attendees that came out to hear how the process will be carried out.

Representatives from Councilman I. Daneek Miller’s office went through the PB process from start to finish and took questions from those present, while the Council member looked on and took notes.

It began with a mock game of Jeopardy to get the audience warmed up and test their knowledge of budgeting, discretionary funds and the participatory process. The audience was dead on with responses to questions such as to how much money would be allocated; up to $1 million, who votes on how to spend the money; only residents and who determines the amount per District; the City Council Speaker.

Councilman Miller is one of 22 Council members bringing PB to their Districts. Recently, Council Member Donovan Richards brought PB to the Rockaway Peninsula portion of his District and will be following up with an additional PB for the mainland voters of Southeast Queens in his District.

This PB will cover capital project expenditures only. Capital projects are those that are $35,000 or more and have a useful life of five or more years. Buildings, vehicles, structures, roads and cameras would fall into that category. That means projects which focus on programs and services will be part of the voting for discretionary funds process. Capital structures which support such programs, however, can be a part of the voting process.

Representatives from the Councilman’s office explained the goals of the PB process which includes building community, inspiring engagement, developing new leaders, expanding civic engagement and opening government. Open government is a timely issue as there were several negative reports surrounding the issue of discretionary funds during the previous speaker, Christine Quinn’s, tenure. A representative of the current Speaker, Council Member Melissa Mark Viverto, was on hand briefly to check in on the session. “This is a process that is near and dear to the speakers heart,” said Joey Pressley of his attendance

“There is nothing greater than civic involvement,” said Councilman Miller.

As this is a new process, expectation for voter engagement is low, two thousand in a District of over 160,000 residents, but the Councilman is optimistic.

“We come out and we participate,” he said referring to the high voter turnout that Southeast Queens area had in the last citywide election. “I went to the City Hall with the most votes…if we don’t surpass five thousand, I would be disappointed.”

The plan is to start early and for everyone to be engaged.

“Bring a child. Bring a friend. We need everybody to be involved,” said Jessica Douglas from Councilman Miller’s office.

The process begins with neighborhood assemblies and online participation where ideas for projects are generated. Delegates, assigned for the entire process, are then selected, sworn in and meet to review the submissions. Once the listing is pared down, project expos are created where residents can view and receive information about projects up for the vote. Then voting begins. Up to five projects for the $1 million can be awarded.

To ensure the process is inclusive and that all prospective projects are considered, there is a weighting matrix employed as part of the PB process to “evaluate the project based on need,” said Christopher King from Community Voices Heard, the partner organization in the process. He explained that a proposed project to rehab a dilapidated building might have a higher weight than one which includes a new building. The Councilman’s office also monitors the process to ensure it is an inclusive process.

Once the project winners have been announced, they will receive an award letter signifying the project will commence. There is a steering committee that acts as an overseer and advisor to make certain projects can be carried out.

The types of projects that can be considered are transportation, public health and safety, education, parks and recreation and arts and culture.

To learn more about the PB process or to get involved, contact Councilman Miller at 718-776-3700 or district27@council.nyc.gov.

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