Project ideas displayed at participatory budget meeting

By Kelsey Durham

Advocates for several northeast Queens nonprofits gathered at a participatory budget meeting last week to present their ideas for community projects in hopes of securing funding for the work in the city budget.

Now in its second year, the participatory budget process allows residents in City Councilman Mark Weprin’s (D-Oakland Gardens) district to learn about projects that are eligible for capital funding and vote on the ones they most want to see completed during the 2015 fiscal year, starting July 1.

This year 14 projects are being considered and a few will be chosen to receive some of the $1 million the city has allocated for the process.

“This is basically an exhibit day, like a science fair,” Weprin said. “People put up their projects and educate the public as to what they hope to do with funding, and later they’ll all be on a ballot.”

Weprin said the eligible projects were narrowed down to 14 by holding community meetings and looking at how much money was available to give out and how much each suggestion would cost. He said some proposals were ineligible because the money has to be used for public projects rather than private efforts, and others were unrealistic because they would require too much funding, but the city hopes to be able to fund four or five total projects with the money available.

Weprin’s Council district is one of just nine districts citywide that has begun using the participatory process to determine community projects. So far, Weprin said he thinks the process has been a successful way to fairly decide how to fund projects and educate residents about improvements that could soon be taking place.

“It’s been a great example of democracy because people can cast their own votes on how we spend money,” he said. “It gets people involved in the community and lets them know what’s going on.”

Some of the biggest projects displayed at the presentation involved public schools, such as a $450,000 request for five schools across Queens Village, Bellerose and Oakland Gardens to purchase a combined 100 Smart Boards, a touch-screen display board that encourages interactive learning.

PS 18 and PS 135, both in Queens Village, are also gunning for a total of $85,785 that would go toward updating technology used in classroom learning.

A few libraries in the area put together projects requesting hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovations and upgrades. Bellerose, Fresh Meadows, Hollis and Windsor Park Libraries are seeking $86,000 each, a total of $344,000, to upgrade security at each of the buildings. The Queens Village Library is advocating for a grant of $385,000 that would be spent on upgrading self check-in and check-out kiosks.

“I think it’s terrific,” said Howard Hecht, who helped draw up plans for $300,000 worth of curb repairs to be made along Union Turnpike. “It’s a great process. There is money to be given out and this way the community can participate in how it’s spent.”

Weprin said the process received about 1,100 votes last year, and he hopes to get even more people to come out and vote for this year’s projects. Anyone 16 or older who lives in Council District 23 — covering Hollis Hills, Queens Village, Little Neck, Douglaston, Bayside, Bellerose, Floral Park, Glen Oaks, New Hyde Park, Hollis, Hollis Park Gardens, Holliswood and Fresh Meadows — can vote for up to five projects on one of the eight scheduled voting days, starting March 29, and running until April 5.

For voting times and locations, residents can contact Weprin’s office at 718-468-0137.

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.

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