March 16, 2017 By Hannah Wulkan
Participatory budgeting voters in Sunnyside, Woodside and Long Island City will be able to vote online for the first time ever this year.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer will kick off his third annual participatory budgeting vote on March 25, allowing residents in the 26th Council district to decide what projects they would like to see funded with about $1 million of his discretionary capital budget.
For the first time this year, participants will be able to cast their votes from the comfort of their own home, though there will still be 10 locations throughout the district where people can cast their vote in person as well.
“The best thing about the participatory budgeting process is that it’s driven by the people in the neighborhood and it is really a grassroots process,” Van Bramer said.
Following a successful pilot program in several New York City council districts last year, residents of the 31 council districts where participatory budgeting is scheduled to take place will now be able to vote online.
Beginning at midnight on March 25 and running through April 2, constituents will be able to log on to vote through Van Bramer’s website and vote for up to five projects that they would like to see funded.
The voting system requires each voter to sign an affidavit and enter their name and birth date to verify that they reside in the district and only vote once, and the Participatory Budgeting program will keep a list of all voters to ensure there is no fraud.
This is the first year that online voting has been widely available in New York, though several other cities throughout the country including San Francisco and San Jose in California have done it in the past few years.
The participatory budgeting process began in the fall, when community members came together and suggested projects that they would like to be funded. After they compiled the list, Van Bramer’s office spoke with city agencies, estimating feasibility and cost, and pared it down to a final 18 projects that constituents could vote on.
The projects on the ballot this year include expanding the teen space and upgrading technology at the Woodside library; revamping and repairing playgrounds and facilities at schools throughout the district; and upgrading various aspects of the Queensbridge and Ravenswood and Woodside NYCHA campuses.
The list also includes updates to various parks throughout the district, pedestrian safety improvements in LIC, and bus countdown clocks at bus stops.
The price tags on the projects range from $80,000 to add water fountains at PS 112 to $1 million for renovating Sixteen Oaks Grove Park, which is located on 37th Avenue between 14th and 21st Streets.
Last year, Van Bramer said about 3,500 people voted, but he hopes to see that number greatly increase now that people will be able to vote online.
The number of projects funded through the process will depend on how expensive the winners are, Van Bramer said. Though he technically allocates $1 million total to the budgeting process, he has gone over that threshold each year since he introduced Participatory Budgeting to the district in 2015.
In the first year, Van Bramer ended up allocating about $1.4 million and last year he allocated over $2 million on PB projects.
Van Bramer said that he tries to keep his preferences for projects under wraps. “I have a vote and I do vote, but that’s one vote, and then we will let the district decide, that’s the power of participatory budgeting,” he said. “They are all good projects, they are all worthy of funding and may the best project win.”
Though not all the projects can be funded, Van Bramer said that he believed they were all worthy options. “I don’t think that I have ever seen a project that wound up on final list that didn’t merit funding,” he said.
He added that he views the final ballot as a way to understand the priorities of the community, and that he will sometimes fund a few of the projects outside of participatory budgeting if they seem popular and necessary to the community but do not win.
For a full list of voting times and locations and a list of projects on the ballot see the fliers below.