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Getting Say on Spending

Participatory Budgeting Comes To Wdhvn.

Woodhaven got its first taste of the participatory budgeting process-which allows residents to choose capital projects they would like the city to fund-during a workshop held at the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) last Saturday, Jan. 18, at Emanuel United Church of Christ.

Woodhaven residents got a chance to suggest their ideas for public improvements during a participatory budgeting workshop held at the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) meeting last Saturday, Jan. 18. As shown, executive members of the WRBA-including its new president, Martin Colberg (second from right)-are pictured compiling a list of potential projects.

During the workshop, attendees broke into groups and brainstormed various ideas for local public improvements they wish to see funded by the city in the upcoming 2015 fiscal year budget. The assembly was coordinated by the office of City Council Member Eric Ulrich, who previously held participatory budgeting in the Rockaway portion of his district.

Ulrich was able to expand participatory budgeting this year to Woodhaven, Ozone Park and Richmond Hill as a result of redistricting, as he gained much of the confines of Community Board 9. He said he hoped the program would prove just as successful in the northern end of his district as it was on the Rockaway peninsula.

“I believe Woodhaven is a very strong community that is ripe for it and can serve as a laboratory for democracy,” Ulrich said. “At the end of the day, it’s not my money-it’s your money. The vote you cast can have a real effect because there’s a dollar amount behind it.”

Members of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association (WRBA) greeted federal, state and city lawmakers at the organization’s Jan. 18 meeting, held at Emanuel Church of Christ. Pictured above are (from left to right) WRBA board member Maria Thomson; Rep. Nydia Velázquez; WRBA board member Arlene Annunziata; Assemblyman Mike Miller; WRBA Vice President Giedra Kregzdys; WRBA Communications Director Alexander Blenkinsopp; WRBA President Martin Colberg; WRBA board member Vance Barbour; WRBATreasurer Stephen Forte; State Sen. Joseph Addabbo and City Council Member Eric Ulrich.

Rudy S. Giuliani, Ulrich’s chief of staff, outlined how the participatory budgeting process works. Residents with the legislator’s district attend workshops such as the one held last Saturday and brainstorm ideas for capital projects they would like to see happen in their area, including improvements at a local park to new street lighting.

Generally, City Council members who hold participatory budgeting program receive up to $1 million for such projects, though Giuliani pointed out Ulrich did receive additional funds that became available. Each project suggested during participatory must cost at least $36,000 but not more than $1 million.

“There are no bad ideas,” Giuliani said. “Even if it is too expensive … the council member goes through every item on the list. Maybe he can fund something in a different way.”

During brainstorming sessions, each group shares its ideas and presents its top three items before the whole group. At a later date, volunteer budget delegates from communities in the City Council district are appointed to review the suggested projects and meet with representatives of city agencies to determine whether the ideas are feasible.

Those proposals which pass the muster of city agencies are then presented to the community at a project expo, which is followed by a election held in the spring at a centralized public venue such as a library, Giuliani pointed out. Each voter is asked to select the top five projects which they would like to see funded.

The projects which receive the most votes will then be placed in the city’s upcoming fiscal year budget, he added. Depending on the availability of funding, between three and five of the top projects in a district will be placed in the budget.

The Woodhaven brainstorming session, which lasted about 25 minutes, took place just after Giuliani’s presentation. Once concluded, a representative from each of the groups presented their ideas, which included:

– adding security cameras around Woodhaven, specifically along Jamaica Avenue;

– repurposing an empty lot adjacent to P.S. 60 to hinder illegal activity;

– installing elevators at the Woodhaven Boulevard and 85th Street-Forest Parkway stations on the elevated J/Z line;

– improving classroom technology;

– graffiti removal;

– installing a free wireless internet network along Jamaica Avenue;

– expanding technology in public school classrooms; and

– transforming part of the abandoned Rockaway Beach branch of the LIRR as a nature preserve.

Giuliani encouraged residents to contact Ulrich’s office if they are interested in serving as budget delegates. Another participatory budgeting assembly will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 29, at 8 p.m. at the Richmond Hill Block Association’s meeting, which will be held at the One Stop Richmond Hill Community Center, located at 110-08 Jamaica Ave.

Lawmakers report

A slew of local legislators joined Ulrich at last Saturday’s session to update residents on various federal, state and city matters.

Rep. Nydia Velázquez lauded the recent passage of a federal omnibus spending plan which will bring hundreds of millions of dollars in funds to New York City. She stated the government plans to bring $500 million toward early childhood education programs and close to $438 million for homeland security efforts.

“If anything, we should all be proud that Congress finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel,” Velázquez said, noting the provisions in the omnibus spending bill will keep the government running through September.

Even so, Velázquez charged the warring factions in Congress have yet to compromise on an extension of the farm bill set to expire at the end of this month, which could send prices of milk and other agricultural products soaring. She also lamented a failure by lawmakers to extend unemployment benefits to 2.3 million Americans who have been out of work for years.

Following Velázquez was State Sen. Joseph Addabbo, who told residents he called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to support a method to once again provide discretionary funding for local organizations in need. Cuomo, he noted, froze the distribution of these funds several years ago in the wake of a host of pay-to-play scandals which rocked Albany and sent several legislators to jail.

“If he’s (Cuomo) not going to listen to the politicians, then let the groups apply” directly to state agencies, the senator said. “Let them get the money they deserve and need.”

Addabbo also stated he was cautious about giving the MTA a “blank check” for funding, as the authority has a history of not being able to “do math very well.” The legislature should carefully examine the MTA’s spending plan before allocating any additional resources to it to hold down fare hikes and service cuts, he added.

Assemblyman Mike Miller and Addabbo also updated residents on efforts to address the condition of a collapsed, abandoned home on 78th Street that has become an eyesore.

“The owner of the building has paid his fines,” Miller said. “He’s hired an architect to work on plans for the building. It took a long time, but at least we got to that point.”

Miller added he is working on a bill to be introduced in the Assembly to cut down on the illegal use of outof state license plates and registration by New York City residents. The legislation would specifically bar vehicles with out-of-state plates from being parked on residential streets overnights from 2 to 5 a.m.

All of the lawmakers in attendance also welcomed the WRBA’s new president, Martin Colberg, and offered thanks to his predecessor, Ed Wendell, for his four years of leadership.

The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association generally meets on the third Saturday each month at 1 p.m. at locations in the neighborhood. For more information, visit the group’s website, www.woodhaven-nyc.org.

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