Councilman Vallone announces winners of participatory budgeting vote

By Mark Hallum

Participatory budgeting is catching on as a way for communities in Queens to have a direct say in what projects get funded within their districts.

When City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) announced this year’s winning projects Monday, he said that almost twice as many votes were cast during the participatory budget process this year as were cast last year. Vallone also announced he would be allocating an additional $2.25 million for the winning projects.

A total of 4,500 votes were cast by residents in order to decide how Vallone would spend $1 million of his discretionary funding. This turnout places Bayside’s council office at No. 1 for Queens County and third in the city.

Bayside High School’s Music Education Complex project pulled in the highest number of votes at 1,144. This will fund the completion of a state-of-the-art music studio for the 350 students enrolled in the school’s “Career and Technical Education” music program. The project will receive $450,000. The JHS 194 Auditorium Upgrade came in second with 1,085 votes. This project will get $550,000 to fully renovate the auditorium, which is used for school and community events.

An auditorium upgrade will also be funded for PS 193 ($500,000) with 1,059 votes and a gymnasium upgrade for PS 79 ($200,000) with 1,025 votes.

The Harvey Park Pedestrian Safety Sidewalk and Guardrail project also received funding, with 987 votes. The project will provide a concrete walkway along the northbound Whitestone Expressway Service Road between 20th Avenue and 14th Avenue.

“It’s a hazard to walk to 14th Avenue. I think this will benefit the members of the community for years to come,” said Frank Mezzanotte, one of the leaders of the project and a coach for the Dwarf Giraffes baseball team.

Vallone spoke about the success of participatory budgeting in his district, saying “4,500 votes shows you when a community comes out and gets involved, spends their nights and their time, this process is very worth it.”

He added, “It also teaches our youth, because this is the only process where you can be 16 years old and vote. That’s why you see so much activity from the schools. In a time when we’re looking at why people aren’t voting, you have a participatory budgeting process where we as the New York City Council embrace and say get your youth involved… and they got involved!”

New York City has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the nation with only 58 percent of those registered showing up at the polls. Participatory budgeting gets people involved in the democratic process on a grassroots level.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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