How Would You Spend $1 Million?

Participatory budgeting, now in its second year, comes to four council districts in Brooklyn.

It's an idea that finally has had its day—actually, six of them in Brooklyn Council District 33, in fact.

On Wednesday, residents gathered at St. Francis College in Downtown Brooklyn to take part in an experiment in direct democracy called participatory budgeting.

Now in its second year, the program allowing constituents to decide what capital projects on which to spend $1 million has spread from four council districts citywide to four this year in Brooklyn alone.

That list includes the district represented by Councilman Steven Levin, D-Boerum Hill, who lauded the program Wednesday as the most "logical" way to get badly needed funds to neighborhood projects that often go overlooked.

"I'm excited to be able to allow the community to decide how to spend public money," Levin said.

At the six meetings held in the district so far, the public has enthusiastically taken up the offer—coming out in droves to participate in brainstorming sessions on how to spend $1 million in taxpayer funds, according to Levin's office.

Among the many projects proposed at this week's meeting: playground resurfacing at P.S. 38 in Boerum Hill, new computers and air-conditioning system at the Brooklyn Heights Library and a rooftop garden at M.S. 8.

The money, purloined from the discretionary budgets of the eight council members participating in the program, comes with a catch.

Funds cannot be used for expense projects, which includes city services like lunch programs and maintenance of existing facilities such as swimming pools.

The cost of the projects also must be in the range of $350,000 to $1 million, which limits the granting of money for small efforts like filling up potholes as well as larger ambitions such as erecting new buildings.

Despite the limits, the participatory budgeting process seems to be gaining adherents with each meeting.

"I wish we had something like this in my district," said Bed-Stuy resident Ruby Getter, who attended Wednesday's meeting with her 18-year-old son, Julian Hernaiz, for a school assignment.

Getter said she would advocate spending money on installing new streetlights on Dekalb Avenue.

"I go to work at 5 a.m. and it's very dark," she said.

Though Getter, who lives in Councilman Al Vann's district, will not get a chance to participate this year—there's plenty of others that will, including constituents of Council members Brad Lander, Jumaane Williams and David Greenfield, all D-Brooklyn.

For more on the participatory budgeting program, visit pbnyc.org.

Joe Gonzalez October 19, 2012 at 12:46 PM
We have seen this movie before. These kinds of sessions have in the past become opportunities for elected officials to play one community group against another group. I hope Mr. Levin doesn't let this happen this time. I suggest to Mr. Levin two things: one, that he holds future budget suggestion meetings in NYCHA projects to underscore the importance of NYCHA residents' imput into the budget process and two, obtain these folks' views on City spendings priorities.


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