Sunset Park

School technology project heads budget wish list in 38th Council District

May 11, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca says his district had the highest level of participation in the budgeting process of any council district in the city, with more than 6,200 votes cast for various projects. Eagle file photo by Paula Katinas

Councilmember Carlos Menchaca asked constituents in his Sunset Park-Red Hood district to name the project they most wanted to see get funding in the new city budget and the answer he got could be summed up in three words: technology for schools.

An ambitious $965,000 proposal to upgrade technology in a handful of schools in the 38th Council District – P.S. 1, Middle School 88, P.S. 676, P.S. 105, P.S. 310, P.S. 69 and New Voices Middle School – won the day in the 2015 participatory budgeting process in the district, coming out on top of a list of projects Menchaca asked residents to vote on. The school technology project received 3,273 votes.

The voting took place April 11-17. Menchaca announced the winning projects at PS 503/P.S. 506 at 330 59th St. on May 7.

Menchaca set aside nearly half of his discretionary budget for participatory budgeting. After a series of public meetings in the fall and winter in which advocates for various projects pitched their ideas to residents, constituents were asked to vote for five projects out of 14 finalists that they want to see funded in the city budget.

Coming in at Number Two was a $400,000 project to install new lighting in the playground at P.S.503/P.S.506, which received 3,112 votes.

The other winning projects were:

  • Expansion of the exit doors at P.S. 169 at 4305 Seventh Ave., a $75,000 project that advocates said will greatly improve safety and efficiency at the school. It received 3,026 votes.
  • Bathroom renovations at two schools, P.S. 15 at 71 Sullivan St. in Red Hook and P.S. 94 at 5010 Sixth Ave. in Sunset Park. The project, which received 2,838 votes, is budgeted at $400,000.
  • Installation of outdoor fitness equipment in Sunset Park. The equipment is to be placed outside the Sunset Park Recreational Center on Seventh Avenue and 43rd Street. The project received 2,773 votes and will cost $500,000.

In addition, residents also voted for a sixth project: the installation of smart boards, computers, and surround sound in a multi-media room at the Red Hook Library at 7 Wolcott St. The project cost is $50,000. It received 1,143 votes.

“There is no question that a budget should reflect the priorities of a people, and in this case, we are seeing what our communities are thinking most about: access to technology for their children, safer schools, maintained parks and stronger libraries,” Menchaca, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Under participatory budgeting, everyday New Yorkers get to vote on which capital projects from their council members’ discretionary budgets they would like funded. Twenty-four out of 51 council districts around the city took part in participatory budgeting this year. Residents in those 24 districts got to vote on how to spend a total of $25 million. Council members worked with two non-profit groups, Participatory Budgeting Project and Community Voices Heard, to set up budgeting mechanisms and to engage constituents in the process.

Participatory budgeting, which takes place in 1,500 cities around the globe, was introduced to New York City in 2011, according to the Participatory Budgeting Project’s website, www.pbnyc.org.

Participatory budgeting is not mandatory in New York City. It is up to the individual council member as to whether he or she wants to permit it in their district.

This year marked the second year Menchaca has taken part in the process. The projects chosen this year by the constituents provided a glimpse into their thought-process, he said. “These common-sense projects make clear that in the neighborhoods of District 38, residents are unwavering in their resolve to maintain a strengthened network of community-based resources,” Menchaca said.

The City Council is currently preparing to negotiate with Mayor Bill de Blasio over the budget for Fiscal Year 2016, which begins July 1.

In addition to Menchaca, the Brooklyn council members who had participatory budgeting in their districts were David Greenfield, Brad Lander, Stephen Levin, Antonio Reynoso, Mark Treyger and Jumaane Williams.

Menchaca boasted that his district has the highest level of participation of any council district in the city, with more than 6,200 votes cast. Nearly two-thirds of the votes were cast in Spanish and Chinese, a sign that the immigrant communities of Sunset Park and Red Hook were fully invested in the process.

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