Bike racks, decorative lighting, new Taft pool among 41st Ward recommended projects





by BRIAN NADIG

Bike racks for Downtown Edgebrook and air-conditioning for the Taft High School gym were among the 41st Ward infrastructure improvements which were suggested at a Nov. 17 meeting on the ward’s new participatory budget process.

Other recommendations included a regulation-size pool at Taft, decorative lighting in the Higgins-Harlem commercial corridor and crosswalk improvements in Downtown Edison Park.

Alderman Anthony Napolitano is joining about a half-dozen other aldermen in holding a community vote to determine how to spend $1 million of their ward’s annual allocation of $1.32 million in discretionary funds, which must be used for infrastructure projects. Side-street resurfacing is the primary use for discretionary funds citywide.
Under participatory budgeting, projects are vetted for their feasibility before being placed on a ballot, which will ask what percentage of funds should be used for resurfacing. The remaining funds are then allocated to individual projects based on which receive the most votes.

In the neighboring wards where participatory budgeting already is in place, residents usually vote to set aside about $550,000 for side-street resurfacing. In the 45th Ward, winning projects have included the planting of trees and the installation of bike lanes.

“This budget is yours, so run with it,” Napolitano told the 125 people at the Nov. 17 meeting. Residents were given forms to list their ideas for the ward.

Napolitano’s chief of staff Chris Vittorio said that some projects may not make the ballot because a different funding source was found. He said that he hopes to secure private funds for a proposed “Welcome to Norwood Park” sign at Northwest Highway and Harlem Avenue near the planned Starbucks coffee shop.

Many of the recommendations, including sidewalk repairs and tree replacement in business districts, would cost under $30,000, Vittorio said. “A lot of these items are not big ticket,” he said. “My guess is you’re going to have $400,000 toward projects.”

For some projects, discretionary funds can be combined with grants with other agencies, including the Chicago Park District and Chicago Public Schools.

Voting on the participatory budget will be conducted at the ward office, 7442 N. Harlem Ave., and temporary locations during the month of February, Vittorio said. Neighborhood and business groups are being asked to submit recommendations and to promote the voting, he said.

If the voter turnout goal of 2,000 to 3,000 ward residents is reached, it would make it the highest total for a participatory budget vote in the city, Vittorio said.

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