PORTAGE PARK — A skate park. New bike trails. A band shell. New streetlights. Murals. New playground equipment.
The list of needs in the 45th Ward on Chicago’s Northwest Side is endless — and Ald. John Arena’s discretionary budget is limited to $1.3 million. But Arena won’t have to make the difficult choice between repaving streets or bringing new bus lanes to Cicero Avenue.
Residents are going to do the hard work for him.
At six community meetings this fall, attendees came up with more than 100 ideas about how $1 million should be spent. Starting in January, committees will turn the suggestions into a prioritized list for the alderman and his staff to review.
In May, residents will vote on which should be funded.
“There’s no monopoly on good ideas here at the alderman’s office,” said Owen Brugh, Arena’s chief of staff. “We’ve collected some innovative and interesting ideas.”
The six committees are streets, bikes, parks and schools, streetscapes and the CTA.
Last year, Arena used this money — sometimes known as menu money — to repave streets, build sidewalks, install new curbs and gutters, and pave two alleys with a permeable surface in an effort to reduce runoff.
This is the first year the 45th Ward will use the participatory budget process.
Cynthia Laris, of the Portage Park Neighborhood Association, said she was pleased Arena was looking to the community for direction on how to spend the ward’s tax dollars.
Under the last alderman, Patrick Levar, "we didn’t have much input,” Laris said.
“Arena is more independent, and that’s good for the community,” she said.
Voters will decide what percentage of the alderman’s budget will be used for street resurfacing, Brugh said.
About $300,000 will be reserved for cost overruns and emergency projects, Brugh said.
Ald. Joe Moore (49th) has used the participatory budget process before. Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Ald. James Cappleman (46th) are also putting their budgets up to a vote.
In the 45th Ward, Arena's office is using the community meeting not only as way to develop items for the May ballot, but also to explore long-term projects in the ward, Brugh said.
One of the most expensive suggestions for the discretionary fund is to build a new park on a yard now used as a fueling center by the Department of Fleet Management.
“That’s a multimillion-dollar project,” Brugh said. “It would cost much more than we have available.”
Other suggestions that may make the May ballot include welcoming signs at the edges of the area’s commercial districts, informational kiosks near the CTA Jefferson Park Blue Line stop to help visitors find places of interest, and new murals.
There were also several requests for new bike trails and bike lanes, Brugh said.
Ward residents 16 and older will be able to cast a ballot on May 5, Brugh said.