Tree planting wins ward’s budget vote




by BRIAN NADIG

Trees, curbs, viaduct lighting and decorative trash cans were the winning projects in the 45th Ward participatory budget vote which Alderman John Arena held on May 7.

A dozen infrastructure improvement projects were listed on the ballot, and the top four vote getters are expected to be funded, with an additional $500,000 being allocated for side-street resurfacing in the ward. Arena is one of a few aldermen who hold a community vote to help determine how their ward’s annual allocation of $1.32 million in discretionary funds will be spent.

Planting trees in the ward received 169 votes, the most of any project on the ballot. Plans call for 450 trees to be planted at a cost of $243,000, and some of the targeted areas include Roberts Square Park, Independence Park, Farnsworth School and along Milwaukee Avenue in the Gladstone Park commercial corridor.

Two years ago discretionary funds also were awarded for the purchase of 450 trees, and the city has almost completed all of the plantings, Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said. Many of the trees replaced trees that had been removed from parkways on side streets because of the emerald ash borer infestation, Brugh said.

Receiving 126 votes was a $200,000 allocation for curb and sidewalk replacement throughout the ward, and 104 votes went for an expenditure of $30,000 for improved lighting at the railroad viaduct over Milwaukee Avenue at the Kennedy Expressway. The other winning project, which received 103 votes, calls for the purchase of 14 decorative trash cans in the ward at a cost of $32,000.

The following projects all received fewer than 100 votes and will not be funded: crosswalks on Milwaukee at Wilson Avenue, Windsor Avenue and Leland Avenue ($80,000); an Austin Avenue "neighborhood greenway" with bike lanes ($60,000); fencing and lighting near the Gladstone Park Metra station ($70,000); new sidewalks and curbs around Jefferson Park, 4822 N. Long Ave. ($230,000); and repaving and adding a sidewalk to the 4800 block of North Avondale Avenue ($335,000).

Also, ornamental street lights in the 5200 block of West Lawrence Avenue ($390,000); pedestrian refuge island across Lawrence Avenue at Lavergne Avenue ($60,000); and pedestrian bump-outs near Hitch School, 5625 N. McVicker Ave. ($150,000).

Normally about 500 ward residents vote each year, but this year only 279 voted. Each person was allowed to vote for up to four projects and was asked to specify what percentage of the funds should be allocated for street resurfacing.

Brugh said that the vote total was "very disappointing" and that efforts will be made to increase turnout next year. In some instances funding from other resources are combined with a discretionary fund allocation to cover the cost of a project.

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