by Olivia Meier
Since 2011, a growing number of New Yorkers have been participating in an exciting experiment in municipal budgeting (I know, “exciting” isn’t an oft-used word for municipal budgeting): Participatory Budgeting. Each year, New Yorkers in certain City Council districts get the chance to suggest and then vote on how at least $1 million in discretionary capital funds is spent in their districts.
To be put on the ballot, projects must meet certain parameters (including lasting a certain amount of time, costing at least $25,000), and fall into 6 general categories: Education, Housing, Parks & Recreation, Transit, Youth, and Arts, Culture, & Community Facilities. This means that you can choose to fund the project that helps your local middle school out in renovating its auditorium, get a modern computer lab in your local library, or add bus clocks to your neighborhood bus stops. All projects have already been researched and vetted by the citizens in each district, so when voters make their selections, those projects are ready to go.
This year, 31 City Council districts are participating. My district doesn’t participate, so all the New Yorkers like me that live in the 20 non-participating districts miss out on this exciting experiment. If you’re also in one of the districts that aren’t participating this year (go to https://council.nyc.gov/pb/ to see participating districts), I urge you to contact your Council Member and express your disappointment that you don’t get to have a voice in how your tax money is spent in your community. This is a process that empowers your local community and creates a more inclusive and equal democracy right here at home. By giving every community member the same power to decide where funds are going, this process is better equipped to accurately represent the community's needs than the traditional budgeting process that takes place City Hall. There's no wheeling and dealing here, just community members deciding what will make their neighborhoods a better place to live.
If you DO live in a participating district, you can participate NOW by submitting an idea to the idea collection map! Ideas must be submitted by October 13, go here to find out the details and submit a project that you think would uplift & improve your community: http://ideas.pbnyc.org/page/about
You can also participate by volunteering as a Budget Delegate. Those are the folks in your neighborhood who get together to make the decisions on which projects should go on the ballot – they meet regularly through the fall & winter to narrow down the list of projects by working with city officials and researching the community’s needs. Go here to learn all about volunteering: https://council.nyc.gov/pb/participate/
I'm urging all New Yorkers in participating districts to submit ideas, go to Neighborhood Assembly meetings, and join their community’s committee of Delegates. And, of course, when the ballots open in the spring, everyone should vote and spread the word to their friends and family. This is a great experiment in local democracy, and your participation makes all the difference.
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