2011-09-23 / Top Stories

Handing Over The Bacon

By Nicholas Briano

Eric Ulrich is one of several council members participating in the initiative. Eric Ulrich is one of several council members participating in the initiative. Four New York City council members, including Eric Ulrich, have decided to put the money in the hands of their constituents, as part of an experiment that allows each participating council district to decide how $1 million-worth of taxpayer money is going to be spent.

Late last week, the other three council members, one each from Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn, unveiled the process that will allow voters in each district to decide how the money is spent, a first in New York City history.

Community Board 14 District Manger Jonathan Gaska likes the idea and feels it can teach people about how government processes work.

The amount of money, however, $1 million, is not a significant amount of money, considering the cost and magnitude of most projects in the city.

“One thing these people will find out from this is how expensive most projects really are,” he said. “They will also learn about the reality of getting things done. It’s not just about deciding on improvements and getting the funding. There’s a lot more to the process.”

This amount of money can get one or two projects done at most, Gaska believes from his more than two decades of experience requesting capital projects and improvements for the peninsula. He remains optimistic, however, about the democratic process.

“But it’s a good thing and if it’s successful maybe we’ll see more money allocated the following year.”

Council members receive anywhere from $1.5 million to $6 million in discretionary funding each fiscal year. The new initiative, called participatory budgeting, will have residents come together in five yet to be announced public meetings this fall to discuss local priorities and propose specific infrastructure projects to address the needs of their communities.

According to a representative for Ulrich’s office, the initiative is exclusive to the Rockaway portion of his district.

The community volunteers will finalize proposals and work with city agencies and Ulrich to estimate costs and feasibility of the requested improvements.

Finally, public votes will be held in March, for the residents to decide which projects will ultimately become a reality.

Traditionally, council members and their staff determine how to allocate discretionary capital funding in their districts. Participatory budgeting originated in Brazil and more recently government officials in Chicago began allocating discretionary funds through this practice.

The approved projects will become part of the New York City 2013 fiscal budget. For more information about the initiative visit www.pbnyc.org

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