Assemblies discuss ideas for spending menu money funds
by BRIAN NADIG
Tree plantings, neighborhood rain gardens and street resurfacing were among the infrastructure improvements which residents recommended at the first three neighborhood assembles which Alderman John Arena (45th) has held as part of the participatory budget process.
"This is open brainstorming. There are no bad ideas," Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said at the Oct. 29 assembly at Hitch School, 5625 N. McVicker Ave.
Arena is one of four aldermen who allocate most of their ward’s discretionary funds through a community vote, which will be held in May. The funds, which are commonly referred to aldermanic menu money, must be used for infrastructure improvements rather than services, such as programming at a park, Brugh said.
Brugh said that last year’s recommendations ranged from spending several hundred dollars to patch a sidewalk to millions of dollars to build a CTA Blue Line station at Nagle Avenue and the Kennedy Expressway. While the station idea is beyond the scope of the participatory budget process, other funding sources may be explored for projects which cannot be paid through the ward’s annual $1.3 million discretionary fund allocation, he said.
At the Hitch assembly, a 14-year-old boy recommended the creation of a paintball field in the ward and several improvements to the park on the grounds at Hitch. He said that the school’s athletic field should be graded so that it is flat and that the gravel on the outdoor track should be replaced with a soft artificial surface.
It also was recommended that a community garden be installed on the median that Medina Avenue between Milwaukee Avenue and Melvina Avenue. The median currently consists of grass and trees.
Brugh said that the need for more flood control is often raised at the neighborhood assemblies. He said that funds could be used for the installation of rain gardens, which often planted near downspouts in an effort to soak up storm water before it can enter the sewer system.
The bulk of the ward’s 2013 discretionary funds have gone toward the construction of an artificial surface field on the Beaubien School playground, pigeon abatement at several viaducts and 30 blocks of residential street resurfacing. Discretionary funds had been considered for a garden at a city-owned parcel at Avondale and Lawrence avenues, but that project is being funding through the Jefferson Park Tax Increment Financing District, Brugh said.
About two dozen residents have attended the first three neighborhood assemblies. A fourth assembly was scheduled for Nov. 5 at the Lydia Home Association, 4839 W. Irving Park Road, and the last assembly will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, at Disney High School/Marshall School, 3900 N. Lawndale Ave.
Arena will form committees of volunteers to research the recommendations in order to determine which ones will make the ballot. The ballot will include a question asking voters what percentage of the discretionary funds should be allocated for street resurfacing.
The minimum voting age for the 2014 community vote will be 14, down from 16 this year.