Participatory budget ideas sought





by BRIAN NADIG

Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) is taking recommendations through January on how to spend the ward’s annual allocation of $1.32 million in discretionary funds for infrastructure improvements in 2018.

About 25 residents attended a community meeting on Dec. 11 in which Napolitano outlined the participatory budgeting process that ends with an annual ward vote to determine how to spend the money. Napolitano is one of nine Chicago aldermen to use the process, which also takes place in the nearby 36th and 45th wards.

Participatory budgeting has been available in the city since 2009, and 2017 marked the first time the process was used in the 41st Ward, attracting about 1,200 voters. Most aldermen allocate the funds without holding a community vote.

"It’s a program set up so that you pick what to see," Napolitano said. "You’re getting a say of what to do in your neighborhood."

The winning projects in the 41st Ward for 2017 were community gardens and beautification for $25,000, streetscape improvements for $75,000, lighting improvements for $75,000 and pedestrian and traffic safety initiatives for $265,000. In addition, about 60 percent of the funds went for side-street resurfacing.

Napolitano’s chief of staff Chris Vittorio said that residents are encouraged to work with their neighborhood organizations to come up with a list of funding ideas and that recommendation forms are available on the ward’s Web site at www.chicago41.com. He said that items on the ballot are grouped by category instead of by neighborhood so that a particular community is not competing with another section of the ward for funds.

At the meeting, a woman recommended the installation of a gazebo for concerts in a park, while several residents expressed the need for improved pedestrian safety.

For the 2017 budget, residents had requested that tree grates in Downtown Edgebrook be repaired or replaced, but the city would not allow discretionary funds to be used for that purpose since it is discontinuing the tree grate program, Napolitano said. Citywide there have been issues with thieves taking the metal grates and then selling them to scrap yards.

Meanwhile, the ballot will ask voters to designate what percentage of the funds should be allocated for side-street resurfacing.

On average, a block costs $72,000 to resurface, allowing for 12 to 15 blocks to be completed in the ward each year, Napolitano said. "The (challenging) thing about the 41st Ward is it has one of the biggest footprints," he said. On some blocks the city has placed a moratorium on resurfacing due to a planned utility project.

While residents age 14 and older are typically allowed to vote in a ward’s participatory budget process, the minimum age in the 41st Ward is 16. "If you’re not old enough to drive, you should not be voting on street resurfacing," Vittorio said.

Unlike 2017, the city is now allowing online voting for participatory budgeting.

Vittorio said that volunteers would be needed to run mobile voting sites throughout the ward in March.