45th Ward participatory budget assembly on Nov. 19


A new playground at Farnsworth School, beautification improvements on Milwaukee Avenue and more signalized pedestrian crossings were among the suggestions at a 45th Ward participatory budget assembly on Nov. 19 at Hitch School.

"No idea is too big or too small," Alderman John Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh told the dozen residents at the workshop. Funding recommendations are being collected at five assemblies which are being held in the ward this month.

Arena is one of a few aldermen who use a community vote to decide how most of the ward’s $1.32 million in discretionary funds, which must be used for infrastructure improvements and which commonly are referred to as aldermanic menu money, should be spent.

Winners in the 2014 vote included pigeon abatement, planting 450 trees and installing a new playground at Independence Park, 3945 N. Springfield Ave. In some instances the funds have been allocated for the projects but work may not begin until next year, and a less expensive alternative may be found, as the city is looking at a spray which can used on viaducts to deter pigeons instead of the more traditional abatement measures, Brugh said.

The 2015 vote will be held next spring after a committee of volunteers help determine which recommendations should be on the ballot, which also asks what percentage of the discretionary funds should be spent on resurfacing side streets. In votes this year and last, residents recommended that about half of the funds should be spent on resurfacing, and each year $300,000 is set aside for cost overruns and emergency expenditures.

Arena said that he caps the amount of menu money on projects which involve another taxing body, such as the Chicago Park District, at $100,000, but those projects can be combined with other funding sources. He said that in some instances projects being considered for menu money end up being funded entirely by another source.

Brugh said after the workshop that combining funds from the Armstrong/Elston Tax Increment Financing District with menu money would not be ruled out for a possible handicapped-accessible playground at Farnsworth. When the TIF district was created in 2007, its boundaries were extended through a residential neighborhood so that the school would be located in the district, making it eligible for TIF funding.

Several residents who live near Farnsworth, 5414 N. Linder Ave., recommended that signalized pedestrian crossings be installed at or near the Central-Catalpa and Milwaukee-Catalpa intersections.

Other suggestions at the meeting include a streetscaping project for Milwaukee Avenue in the Gladstone Park commercial district and an express bus service down the middle of the street. Arena said that as part of a future project on Milwaukee, he hopes to secure landscaping for pedestrian bumpouts, which shorten the distance of a crosswalk, but that an organization with a secure funding source would have to maintain the green spaces.

Hitch principal A.J. Stich said that the school could use capital funds for improvements to the campus park at the school, 5625 N. McVicker Ave. He said that grass was installed over existing asphalt, which is now rising in the middle of the field.

Other recommendations include installing more benches at parks and improved traffic signalization, including left-turn arrows, at the south end of the Gladstone Park commercial district near Milwaukee and Central avenues.

About 520 ward residents voted in the 2014 budget vote for this year. Residents age 14 and older are eligible to vote.