Street improvements to be focus of 45th Ward funds; participatory budgeting on hold for a year
by BRIAN NADIG
45th Ward Alderman Jim Gardiner said Tuesday night that repairing streets, curbs and sidewalks and addressing flooding issues will be a top priority when it comes to spending the ward’s annual allocation of $1.32 million in discretionary funds, as the proposed Austin-Foster Dog Park and other projects could lose their funding or face delays.
“I think that 45th Ward streets are in disarray and are in desperate need of attention,” Gardiner said. “It’s horrendous, and I think that constituents feel the same way.”
Gardiner said that many residents have approached him about the poor condition of the streets where they live.
Former alderman John Arena held a community vote, called “participatory budgeting,” on how to spend $1 million of the ward’s discretionary funds, and the winning projects in last year’s vote included $100,000 for the dog park, $150,000 for sidewalk repairs and $240,000 for colored LED lights at the railroad viaduct in the 5000 block of North Milwaukee Avenue.
In other years improvements to the Jefferson Park Library, crosswalk bump-outs and the planting of trees have been among the winning projects, and typically voters allocated about $500,000 for side-street resurfacing.
Ward residents age 14 and older have been eligible to vote on the budget, and the highest vote total occurred in 2018 when 761 ward residents participated. Online voting was allowed, and pop-up voting stations were set up.
The process included a committee of volunteers who review funding suggestions and research the costs of feasible projects. Last year more than 15 projects were on the ballot.
Gardiner said that he informed the Austin-Foster Dog Park Committee that he plans to have the $100,000 for the dog park used for other infrastructure needs.
The committee reportedly planned to raise an additional $50,000 to $75,000 for the project through a series of fundraisers, as the participatory budget allocation was not expected to cover all of the expenses.
Gardiner said that 360 residents who live near the Austin-Foster Playlot Park, 6020 W. Foster Ave., have signed a petition against the dog park. “I’m not necessarily for or against the dog park, (but) I have to respect” the concerns of those “closest to the park.”
At a March 20 community meeting hosted by the dog park committee, some residents raised concerns about barking dogs and said that the dog area could take space away from the ball fields.
The Chicago Park District was looking into the feasibility of a dog area at the park, and committee members said that the dog area would be positioned away from the fields. Calling it a multi-year project, members also have said that construction was not expected in 2019.
The committee reportedly plans to look into keeping the project alive.
Gardiner said that some of the winning participatory budgeting projects, including up to $15,000 for the installation of a butterfly garden at Gladstone Park, are being funded and that his office has been reviewing the list.
It is not clear if the colored lights for the viaduct will be funded, but the cost of that project is equivalent to resurfacing three blocks of streets. On the average it costs about $73,000 to resurface a side-street block.
In addition, the ward will be taking a year off from participating budgeting due to a lack of time, as delays could put the funding at risk, Gardiner said. He was installed as alderman on May 20.
The ward skipped having a participatory budget vote two years ago after the city Department of Transportation changed the schedule for wards to submit funding requests. At the time Arena said that the time off from participatory budgeting would be used to find ways to get more residents involved, as voter turnout for the 2016 budget had dropped to about 280 residents.
Participatory budget votes have been held in about a dozen of the city’s 50 ward since 2009. Also on the Northwest Side, Aldermen Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Gilbert Villegas (36st) have held votes. Each ward gets the same amount of discretionary funds regardless of the ward’s land size.
(Pictured is the new garden at Gladstone Park, 5421 N. Menard Ave., which was a participatory budget project.)