Local Pol Wants Residents to Decide How to Spend $1 Million

September 25, 2018 Paula Katinas
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You don’t have to be a politician to have a say in the city budget, thanks to an innovative program that allows everyday citizens to propose capital projects, pitch their bold ideas to fellow residents and then vote to decide which notions get serious city funding.

It’s called Participatory Budgeting and it’s all the rage on the New York City Council.

Eleven members of the council’s Brooklyn delegation are bringing participatory budgeting to their districts for the 2018-2019 cycle.

Brannan (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-parts of Bensonhurst, Bath Beach) is a first-time participant. He was first elected to the City Council in November of 2017, too late for that participatory budgeting cycle.

He is excited about the idea of opening up the city’s budgeting process to his constituents.

“Participatory budgeting is fiscal transparency and small ‘d’ democracy in action,” Brannan told this newspaper. “By empowering the community, participatory budgeting gives residents direct influence and power over their neighborhood. The idea is to make the process as inclusive as possible, emphasizing participation from those who have historically been excluded from electoral and democratic processes. I ran on a platform of giving power back to the people and making sure everyone has a seat at the table in the room where it happens and this is where it starts.”

Here’s how participatory budgeting works: Each council member sets aside at least $1 million from his or her discretionary budget. Residents living in those council districts can go online at https://council.nyc.gov/pb/ to propose projects they think should be funded. All ideas are welcome, including everything from speed bumps, to technology upgrades in schools to the installation of benches in parks.

A look at Brannan’s participatory budgeting website shows that his constituents are coming up with interesting ideas on how to spend money. Proposals so far include: installation of police security cameras on streets; renovation of the bocce courts in McKinley Park; putting solar trash receptacles on Fifth Avenue; buying smart boards for classrooms at Intermediate School 30; and creating an education program called Safe Sidewalks to teach residents the rules on bicycle riding to get bikes off the sidewalk.

Many lawmakers also have idea sheets in their district offices. The sheets are printed in different languages.

Proposals will be accepted through October.

Along the way, council members will be hosting assemblies in their districts to give residents a chance to present their budget proposals in person.

Brannan has scheduled three assemblies in his district. The first session will take place on Monday, Oct. 1, at P.S. 264, 317 89th St. in Bay Ridge. On Tuesday, Oct. 2, there will be an assembly at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 1305 86th St. in Dyker Heights. The Bath Beach/Bensonhurst community will get its chance on Wednesday, Oct. 3 at the MAS Youth Center, 1933 Bath Ave. All sessions start at 7 p.m.

The projects will then be listed on a ballot and residents will get the chance to vote for their favorites in April of 2019. The winning proposals in each district will be funded in the city budget that will be finalized later that spring.

In addition to Brannan, the Brooklyn council members taking part are: Stephen Levin, Antonio Reynoso, Laurie Cumbo, Robert Cornegy, Carlos Menchaca, Brad Lander, Mathieu Eugene, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Jumaane Williams and Mark Treyger.

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