Harlem and Upper West Side Residents to Have a Say in Budgeting Process

By Jeff Mays on October 11, 2011 5:14pm 

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito is one of  four city councilmembers trying out participatory budgeting, a process where community members get to vote on which community projects receive funding.
Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito is one of four city councilmembers trying out participatory budgeting, a process where community members get to vote on which community projects receive funding.
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HARLEM — Residents in East Harlem and parts of the Upper West Side will have a say in how $1 million in capital funds are spent throughout their neighborhoods in next year's budget process.

East Harlem City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito is one of four councilmembers trying out participatory budgeting, a process where community members get to vote on which community projects receive funding.

"It's about having the community take ownership and engaging the larger community about what type of projects they want funded," said Mark-Viverito, whose district covers East Harlem and parts of the Upper West Side and the Bronx.

The new budgeting process would be a change from the current process, in which elected officials receive applications for funding from community groups, review the applications, and then forward the information to the mayor's office. The mayor's office screens the organizations to make sure they are in compliance with all legal requirements before any money is dispensed.

The current process has recently come under scrutiny because some of the groups awarded money were former aides or family members of the councilmember assigning the funds.

Some councilmembers were also directing money to fictitious groups to store funds that they could use later without going through the normal budget review process, the New York Times reported.

Two aides to a Brooklyn councilman were also accused of embezzling funds from a nonprofit agency that received money.

The participatory process makes budgeting more accessible and transparent while drawing new people into the process, advocates said.

"Anyone who lives or works in the community can be involved," said Joe Taranto, Mark-Viverito's deputy chief of staff.

The councilwoman is holding seven meetings this month, called neighborhood assemblies, where residents will have a chance to become budget delegates and help turn allocation ideas into solid proposals. In March, residents will vote on which proposals get funded in the 2012 city budget. Volunteers can sign up as budget delegates at the neighborhood assemblies.

Councilmen Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn and Eric Ulrich of Queens are also participating in the participatory budgeting process in their home districts.

There are more than 1,200 cities that use participatory budgeting around the world, including Chicago, Montreal and Toronto, according to the Participatory Budgeting Project.

A Manhattan Valley neighborhood assembly will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tues., Oct. 11, at the Youth Hostel, 891 Amsterdam Ave. at 104th Street. On Weds., Oct. 12, an East Harlem neighborhood assembly will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Taino Towers Crystal Ball Room, 2383 Second Ave., between 122and 123 streets.

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