Participatory budget week begins in New York City, with residents getting to determine what capital project would most improve their neighborhoods.
From April 11 to April 19, Amalgamated Bank’s Harlem branch will host voting on the 2015 New York City participatory budget, with all residents of the 7th New York City Council District above the age of 14 being able to vote. Some of those projects include repairs to local parks, electrical upgrades at local libraries and computer lab upgrades at a local elementary school.
The 7th Council District is represented by New York City Council Member Mark Levine.
“Our project expo will launch the first-ever participatory vote for many Northern Manhattan residents. I’m thrilled to partner with Amalgamated Bank to host this historic exercise in grassroots action that will empower people from all walks of life to become part of the governing process,” said Levine in a released statement. “From street light upgrades to playground renovations, the expo will be an initial showcase of the locally developed proposals on the ballot for members of the community to determine how they would spend $1 million of their own tax dollars on improvements in their neighborhoods.”
Keith Mestrich, president and CEO of Amalgamated Bank, expressed pride for assisting in keeping the public involved in the political process.
“Participatory budgeting helps give citizens greater say over how their tax dollars are used and empowers New York City voters,” said Mestrich in a statement. “A vibrant democracy requires strong participation and Amalgamated is doing its part to help make this happen.”
Last Friday, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito held a news conference with media members to break down the participatory budget process and what it means to the constituents.
“The participatory budgeting process is something that we’re extremely proud of,” Viverito told reporters. “It’s the ability to engage with constituents so they can identify the needs of the community to see what they want funded. This is a community‑driven process.”
Back in 2011, a group of New York City Council members started the participatory budgeting process with the goal of letting voters determining which capital projects to fund in their districts. After that first year, 24 council districts (nearly half of all council districts) now engage in participatory budgeting. According to Viverito, each district gets approxj13imately $1 million to $2 million for the people to play with.
“When I was running for speaker, I said that I wanted to provide central support from the council to those who want to engage in the process,” said Viverito. “It takes a lot of work to engage the community, go to the neighborhoods and get them to participate.”
And it does take a little work. It takes approximately a year’s worth of community meetings and ends with a vote later on. But there’s more in between. Is it too long of a commitment for some people?
“You need that level of time to fully engage because there are some stages to it,” said Viverito. “First stage is community dialogue to let people know a meeting is happening. At those meetings, we ask them what they would be willing to spend their money on. Those meetings take some time. After that, there is a brainstorming session, and the next stage is choosing constituents from the community to engage with the specific city agencies that potential projects will fall under to find out if they’re feasible.
“Then we have the participatory budget expo where people do presentations on the projects. They tell the community how much it costs and then the phase is voting. But people can come into this process at any point.”
Viverito said that there are a lot of people who are going to vote so it’s a long process, but at least the people are involved.