2013-09-13 / Columnists

From The Councilman’s Desk

Participatory Budgeting Is Back
By Councilman Eric Ulrich

Next month, we will begin our third year of the participatory budget process in Rockaway and Broad Channel. Two years ago, in an effort to bring more transparency and public participation to the city budget, I joined with three of my colleagues on the City Council in an initiative allowing residents to decide how $1 million in capital funding could best be spent right in their neighborhood. The process was wildly popular, with Rockaway and Broad Channel having the highest vote totals in the entire city. Last year, despite the storm, residents still made an effort to participate in the program and vote. In total, residents have allocated more than $3 million dollars in capital funding to Rockaway and Broad Channel in the last two budget cycles.

The basis for participatory budgeting, is simple – residents fund the city coffers through their tax dollars; therefore they should have a meaningful role in determining what projects their money funds. After all, it’s the residents who know best what is needed on their block or in their neighborhood. Since the storm, we have seen what happens when the city makes decisions without community involvement. The much derided bathrooms that were placed on our beaches after the storm are a perfect example of what happens when government rushes into a project with no community input.

Participatory budgeting is all about increasing community engagement and the public’s role in how their money is spent, and I believe that it can be a model for future community involvement in the reconstruction of the boardwalk. I have written to the mayor urging him to include the community in the design of the new boardwalk. Residents deserve a seat at the table when it comes to shaping the future of the peninsula.

Our first introductory meeting of this year’s participatory budget process is tentatively scheduled for October 3rd at the Rockaway Knights of Columbus. Afterwards, there will be five neighborhood assemblies leading into November. This year, we will be making an increased effort to include the local high schools (voting age has been lowered to 16, 14 to be a budget delegate) and Dayton & Bay Towers. Councilmember Richards is also bringing participatory budgeting to the eastern end of the peninsula this year and we will be working closely together to make sure both districts get the best bang for the buck.

I was proud to be the first elected official from Queens to give my constituents a real say in how their money is being spent. Today, I’m joined by nine of my colleagues throughout the five boroughs. Since Hurricane Sandy, I have been to countless meetings and rallies where I’ve heard the community pleading for input on what is built in Rockaway. This is a great chance for anyone who wants to have a voice in the decision-making process or has an idea for a project that would benefit the community to step up and get involved.

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