Residents begin participatory budgeting

September 7, 2012 Denise Romano
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How do you want your tax dollars spent?

Councilmember David Greenfield hosted his first participatory budgeting session at his district office on September 5.

Two dozen residents from Bensonhurst, Midwood and Borough Park came out to take advantage of the opportunity, which allows the community to brainstorm, nominate and vote on capital projects they would like to see in their neighborhood.

Greenfield said he would allocate $1 million in discretionary funds from the upcoming 2014 New York City budget to whatever project the community decides to invest in. He is one of eight city council members offering participatory budgeting to their constituents.

In other districts, the money went to projects such as fixing school bathrooms, libraries and senior centers.

Because his district encompasses so many neighborhoods, Greenfield explained that each one will be guaranteed a project.

“Every community will have at least one project and everyone will have a say,” he said. “The project has to benefit the public. You can’t get a new patio, although I would love to have a burger on it with you.”

The project must also cost at least $35,000 and must last at least five years, so it can’t be something temporary, such as an art installation.

After the process was explained, residents broke out in to separate neighborhood groups to decide on a time and meeting place for a “neighborhood idea meeting.”

“There will be a decision meeting to narrow down those ideas and my staff will help you,” Greenfield said. “[Proposed projects] may cost too much or the city may be doing it anyway. Culling the ideas is critical. Then finally, we will vote on a ballot with a dozen to 20 ideas and the top four to six projects will get funded. But it’s up to you which items go on the ballot.”

Residents bounced around ideas such as air conditioning for local schools, countdown clocks at busy intersections, and installing security cameras and lighting at problem corners.

“You have to think, how will I get the biggest bang for my buck?” Greenfield commented.

Each neighborhood will select a delegate who will serve as the group’s representative. Those delegates will meet between February and November, working with experts to make the project ideas into formal proposals.

Between February and March, delegates will return to their groups and have another round of meetings to work on the first draft of the project. Voting will take place through March and April and the projects will be implemented from April on.

Mike Menser, a Brooklyn College professor and president of the participatory budgeting project, helped the Bensonhurst group hash out its next meeting time and location.

“You can have two meetings in each neighborhood,” he suggested, adding that having more sessions gives working people more options, allowing for optimal community participation.

Menser said that meetings should be fun with food and music. “This is a very bottom-up process.”

The Bensonhurst group will hold its first meeting sometime during the first week of October at a location yet to be determined.

Those interested in facilitation training, which gives basic skills and pointers on how to handle a large group. can attend a session on Thursday, September 13, time and place to be determined.


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