Participatory Budgeting initiative surges ahead

Project ideas range from technology upgrades in schools to park renovations to bike racks and lanes.

Courtesy of Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr. presenting a $500,000 check to last year’s awardees of participatory budgeting.

$1 million will go to upgrade parks, schools and streets

As part of a movement to give everyday people the power to decide where their tax dollars go, more than 130 project proposals have been submitted in the second year of Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr.’s participatory budgeting initiative. The councilman has promised that $1 million will be reserved for the implementation of the community’s ideas for parks, schools and streetscapes. The project ideas range from technology upgrades in schools to park renovations to bike racks and lanes.

“I decided to bring participatory budgeting to our district for the simple reason that it allows for anyone who has a good idea about how to spend our tax dollars in the community with the opportunity to do so,” said Salamanca, who started the program in the district last year. “I know that this year there will be some exciting projects.”

The councilman’s office is still accepting project applications through Jan. 12. Community residents are encouraged to submit as many ideas as they wish. The minimum amount of funding required for each project is $35,000; the maximum is $1 million. Click here to fill out the application form.

One proposal requested upgrades to the Hunts Point Recreation Center. The applicant, Louis Berrios, a manager at Per Scholas, a tech job training center in Port Morris, argues that the recreation center needs newer exercise machines, as well as an increase in space for exercise.

“We owe it to our community to provide an affordable alternative outlet, where its residents can exercise and work towards emphasizing a more healthy life style,” wrote Berrios in his proposal.

Numerous proposals were submitted for improvements to P.S. 130 by special education teacher Marketa Ort. Ort believes that the school is in need of new speaker systems, a new projector, screen, and an upgraded sound system for the auditorium, as well as SmartBoards and computers for students.

“All of these enhancements would signal to the children that the school values their hard work and it would instill in them more school pride,” wrote Ort, adding that these improvements will, “inspire them to work harder and have more confidence.”

One of the city’s requirements for proposals is that they be capital projects – or “brick and mortar” projects. As a result, many submissions, such as those for free English as a Second Language workshops, have already been rejected by the councilman’s office.

After the Jan. 12 deadline, the councilman’s office will submit the proposals to the appropriate city agency (eg. Department of Transportation, School Construction Authority, Department of Parks & Recreation) to determine the cost and feasibility for each project idea. A committee of community board members and the heads of local non-profits will then winnow the list of vetted proposals down to 10 or 12 projects, said Ryan Monell, the councilman’s legislative and communications director. The committee will vote based on factors such as equity, location and the ability of the project to address a need in the community. As of now, the committee members have not been finalized.

In April, residents over the age of 11 who live in the district can vote on the final list of selected by the committee; the winning project will be funded by the councilman. Polling centers will be available throughout the district, and residents can vote online.

Last year more than 1,000 residents voted on projects totaling $965,000. The lion’s share of that money, $500,000, went to playground improvements at M.S. 302, while $150,000 was used to update the bathrooms at MS 424 (the Hunts Point School), and $141,000 went to the installation of security cameras at 168th Street and Union Avenue for the NYPD. Technology upgrades totaling $175,000 were spent at P.S. 75, P.S. 93, P.S. 130, P.S. 217 and P.S. 352.

Participatory budgeting was a process that originated in Brazil during the 1980s for improvements in public welfare. In addition to District 17, 30 other districts in New York City participate in this initiative. Nearly 60 percent of the projects funded across the city from last year’s cycle were education-related.

For more information, call Councilman Salamanca at 718-402-6130, or visit his office at 1070 Southern Boulevard.

Leave a Reply