By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Hey, residents of Sunset Park and Red Hook, think you can do a better job of spending taxpayer money than the city does? Here’s your chance!
The city’s Participatory Budgeting program is coming to the 38th Council District, giving residents a chance to decide how $2 million in funds earmarked for neighborhood improvement projects should be spent. The district, represented by Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez, covers Sunset Park and Red Hook.
Starting this week, a series of public meetings will take place in both communities to give residents the chance to propose projects.
It could be anything from installing traffic calming devices at dangerous intersections to planting trees to beautify the street. It could be one big project for the entire council district or a few smaller projects in which the $2 million will be divided up.
In April, residents will vote on which project or projects they wish to fund. The items will then be submitted by the council member to the council for inclusion in the city’s budget.
The first meeting in Sunset Park is set to take place on Wednesday, Oct. 16, at Charles Dewey Middle School, 4004 Fourth Ave., at 7 p.m. Sunset Park residents will also have a chance to make the budget voices heard at a meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help at 526 59th St., at 6:30 p.m.
Red Hook already had its first session, on Oct. 8. Two more sessions have been scheduled; one on Friday, Oct. 18, at Miccio Community Center, Red Houses of the New York City Housing Authority, 110 West 9th St., at 7 p.m.; and another on Sunday, Oct. 27, at Visitation Church, 98 Richards St., at 4 p.m.
Both Gonzalez and Carlos Menchaca, the man who defeated her in last month’s Democratic Primary and will likely win the council seat in the Nov. 5 general election, are committed to the participatory budgeting process, according to Sondra Youdelman, a spokeswoman for the non-profit group Community Voices Heard, which is helping organize the process citywide. “Therefore, the process will continue even when Sara Gonzalez leaves office and both individuals are currently collaborating to make the set up and start of the process effective in the district,” Youdelman told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in an email.
Community Voices Heard and another non-profit organization, the Participatory Budgeting Project, are the co-chairs of a citywide steering committee of over 40 entities that help to guide and oversee the process in various council districts throughout the city. This year, nine council districts are taking part. Last year, there were eight
“In the nine participating districts, the council members decide to become part of the participatory budgeting process and allow residents to directly decide how a portion of the capital discretionary funds are spent in the district. Community Voice Heard and Participatory Budgeting Project then provide technical support to the district to implement the process. We help to put together a district committee of local organizations and activists that can facilitate and oversee the process on a local level and provide them with tools and techniques to make the process work,” Youdelman said.
The lists from the various meetings in the district are compiled and split up into thematic groups - parks projects, schools projects, housing projects, transit projects – and then volunteer budget delegates meet over the course of three to four months to assess all the project ideas. Their task is to look at what projects eligible for city money, what's already happening through city agencies, where the most need is and what would benefit the most people.
A ballot is prepared and the vote takes place in April. The new city budget goes into effect July 1.
Participatory budgeting began in New York City in 2011, with only four districts taking part. CapitalNewYork reported that Councilman Brad Lander (D-Park Slope) was one of the first council members to embrace the process.