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Weprin names five projects that win budget vote

By Kelsey Durham

School technology and community safety were among the items that topped the list of winning projects in this year’s participatory budgeting process for City Council District 23.

Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) invited his constituents to the Queens County Farm Museum April 9 for his official announcement of the Top 5 projects that were chosen to be included in this year’s $1.1 million participatory budgeting project.

Weprin’s is one of just five Council districts citywide to participate in the process, which allows residents to cast votes to decide how they want city money to be spent on community projects in their neighborhoods.

This year marked the second budget cycle in which participatory budgeting took place in District 23 — which covers Bayside, Bellerose, Douglaston, Fresh Meadows, Floral Park, Glen Oaks, Hollis Hills, Little Neck, Oakland Gardens, New Hyde Park and Queens Village.

More than 1,800 votes were cast, a 70 percent increase from the 1,100 that were cast last year, on the 14 projects chosen to be part of the final round, and the five with the most votes will be paid for by the city.

The project to receive the most votes — 1,166 — was a $450,000 proposal to purchase Smartboard technology boards for five schools within Education District 26 — PS 33, PS 266, IS 109, Benjamin Cardozo High School and Queens High School of Teaching. The second-highest number of votes went to a $200,000 project for a fitness walk and exercise loop at Cunningham Park in northeast Queens, which received 875 votes.

The third-place project, with 718 votes, will pay for the installation of $105,000 worth of portable security cameras in certain locations around the district, which Weprin said will be determined by the NYPD. Slightly more than $85,000 in technology upgrades at PS 18 and PS 135 took fourth place with 699 votes, and a $265,000 project to upgrade security at the Fresh Meadows, Hollis and Windsor Park libraries took the last winning spot with 671 votes.

Weprin said when participatory budgeting first came to his district, he was skeptical of how successful it would be, but the councilman said last week that he believes the increase in votes is proof that the process is working.

“People want to be a part of government, and I’ve always been a big believer in that,” Weprin said. “When people get involved, government can be fun, and that’s what this is about. When people see government in action, they appreciate it more and I think this has been great.”

Douglaston resident Barry Cohen said he was pleased with the results and agreed with Weprin’s idea that participatory budgeting has so far been a unique opportunity for Council District 23 residents.

“It’s very democratic,” Cohen said. “It gets people involved and it’s nice when people feel like they’re part of the results.”

Weprin said the money for the projects, which total $1,105,785, will be officially secured in June when the budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year is adopted, and he said he hopes to have all the winning projects completed in no more than a year.

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

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