Voters choose education upgrades in local participatory budget

By Eric Jankiewicz

The people have spoken and they demand education upgrades.

The participatory budget season came to a close this week. Council members across the city solicited the people to vote on how they want tax money to be spent in their communities as part of the 2016 city council budget. In total, 24 districts were engaged in deciding how to spend $25 million from the next budget.

In Community Board 9, an area that includes Forest Hills and Ozone Park, Councilman Ulrich held voting for $1.9 million projects. Over 600 residents within the community board voted from April 6 until April 24. The five projects that received the most votes were chosen to receive the funds.

The top priority for residents was a technology upgrade in schools. These schools included PS 90 Horace Mann, PS 97 Forest Park, PS 66 Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and PS 306 NYC Academy for Discovery. About $300,000 will be designated for these schools. And the upgrades include things like laptops, smartboards, or anything else that the schools’ administrators decide to spend the money on.

The projects were all created by community members since the beginning of the brainstorming process in November, according to a spokesman for Councilman Ulrich. Overall, residents submitted over 100 proposals that were then vetted by the community and city departments based on feasibility. The price tag for each project is based on an estimation by city agencies like the Department of Education.

The next biggest priority for residents was the library system. $200,000 was designated for security upgrades at Ozone Park Library and renovations at Richmond Hill Library.

Safety in Forest Park, especially at night in areas that are dimly lit, came next on the list. This was reflected in the budget, with $140,000 being allocated for the installation of emergency call boxes.

Schools once again came up as the fourth item, with $300,000 going for renovations to PS 64’s auditorium.

And the fifth item reflects the city’s past tragedy. The 9/11 Memorial in Forest Park will be getting $250,000 for refurbishment.

“Participatory budgeting empowers local communities and strengthens the relationship between elected officials and the people they serve,” Councilman Ulrich said. “I am deeply grateful to everyone that contributed and I look forward to bringing PB back next year to allow my constituents a real say in how their tax dollars are being spent.”

Councilman Ulrich completed a similar process in the Community Board 14, which includes Far Rockaway. Between the two areas, $5 million dollars will be spent on projects that were created by community members.

“The councilman believes that it’s tax payers money and theu know how best to spend it,” said Redmond Haskins, Councilman Ulrich’s spokesman. “These decisions shouldn’t be made behind closed doors.”

Reach reporter Eric Jankiewicz by e-mail at ejankiewicz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.