DNAinfo.com Decide How to Spend $1 Million of City Council Budget on the UES by Shaye Weaver
Help decide what neighborhood projects should get $1 million from City Councilman Ben Kallos' capital budget next year. Kallos is bringing the participatory budget program back next year and is hosting a series public meetings over the next few weeks to gather input from the community on how they want the money spent in the neighborhood. Three participatory budget meetings have been scheduled for Aug. 19, 23, and 31, with more dates in September, according to Kallos. Last year, 24 of 51 councilmembers participated in the process, meaning more than $24 million was spent on community-supported projects, according to Kallos's website. "The idea is to make sure people have the positive experience of voting and making a meaningful impact on the community with things they may put on ballot," Kallos said. "They get to see the tangible results of their civic participation." Each meeting gives residents and organizations a chance to pitch their ideas and projects for selection. Then starting in October and through January, volunteers will work to develop project ideas into proposals. In the spring, volunteers will present the proposals to residents, who can then vote on which projects they believe should receive the city's backing. Anyone over 16 can vote on how the city spends its discretionary funds, Kallos said. In 2014, the participatory budgeting process garnered thousands of dollars for improvements at senior centers, electronic clocks for westbound crosstown bus stops and laptops for nine schools. Last spring, both P.S. 217 and P.S. 151 got the most votes for green roof projects and were both awarded $500,000 each. Because both of those projects will cost more than $500,000, they will likely be back on the ballot again for more funding in 2016, Kallos said. The councilman said he uses the results of the vote to further influence his budget allocations, so projects that didn't win a share of the $1 million could still receive funding. In April this year, when projects were up for votes, 2,000 residents participated, but Kallos said he's aiming to get at least 130,000 residents out to vote this time around. "I hope more people get involved and will choose participatory budgeting as their method of getting involved," he said. "It is nice to be able to tell your school or community you were instrumental in securing the funding they needed." The meeting on Aug. 19 begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House. For more information on the following meetings, visit Kallos's website, which also includes a video about the process.