Council Member Steve Levin is calling on Greenpointers to help plan next year’s city budget.
Levin, along with seven other City Council Members, is teaming up with the Participatory Budget Project (PBP), a nationwide organization dedicated to giving communities direct control over how cities spend their tax money. At a meeting at St. Francis College, on Tuesday, July 24th, Levin and representatives from PBP and Community Voices Heard, who will help with community outreach and mobilization, announced the process by which $1 million of Levin’s annual discretionary funds would be allocated to projects chosen by his constituents.
Over the coming months, Levin and PBP will conduct a series of neighborhood assemblies, at which community members will learn about the budget and local needs, then brainstorm spending ideas. At those meetings, “budget delegates” will be selected to represent the district’s many neighborhoods. These delegates will develop the community’s ideas into project proposals that community members will vote on in March 2013. Winning projects will become part of the 2013-14 city budget.
PBP first ran their program in Chicago in 2009 and expanded it to New York last year, forming partnerships with four members of the City Council. Four more Council Members, including Levin, signed on this year after seeing the success of the inaugural program. “It’s good government,” Levin said. “It brings transparency to how a project gets funded and creates a sense of civic involvement.” Supporters of the plan say participatory budgeting helps bring more equitable funding decisions and strengthens neighborhoods and community organizations. Detractors, however, worry that some poorer parts of the district may not be represented. Levin plans to overcome that hurdle by helping Community Voices Heard select a balanced group of budget delegates.
Last year, Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander brought participatory budgeting to his district. Some of the projects paid for new technology at two schools, new library books, a community composting system near Gowanus Canal, the planting of 100 new trees and repairs to Prospect Park pedestrian paths. “This is revolutionary civics in action,” said Lander. “New Yorkers showed that when you give them the opportunity to make real decisions, they will take that power seriously, work together and make good choices. I was overwhelmed by the turnout and deep level of engagement.”
Residents of the district, 16 years and older, may vote in the participatory budgeting process; however, anyone with an interest in the district (e.g. those working in the community) is eligible to become a delegate. Only city projects, such as schools, transportation and parks are qualified for participatory budgeting. The next neighborhood assembly will be held in August, date to be determined, at the McCarren Recreation Center.
For more information, contact Councilmember Levin’s office at (718) 875-5200. To learn more about participatory budgeting, visit http://www.participatorybudgeting.org/.