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45th Ward Participatory Budget Voting Starts Monday

JEFFERSON PARK — Starting Monday, some Northwest Side residents will get a chance to whip out the city's checkbook and solve some longstanding problems in their neighborhoods.

Residents of the 45th Ward, which includes parts of Portage Park, Jefferson Park, Old Irving Park and Gladstone Park, will be asked to decide how much of the ward's discretionary budget — sometimes known as menu money — should be spent resurfacing streets, repairing curbs and sidewalks and replacing streetlight replacement.

Ald. John Arena is also asking voters to pick six projects to fund with the rest of the money. The projects to choose from include buffered bicycle lanes along Milwaukee Avenue from Addison Street to Lawrence Avenue, a new play surface at Beaubien Elementary School and money for two community gardens.

"A lot of good projects didn't make the ballot," said Owen Brugh, an aide to Arena. "I'm sure we'll see them on the 2014 ballot."

Residents age 16 and older can vote from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through May 3 at and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 4 and from noon to 4 p.m. May 5 at Arena's office, 4754 N. Milwaukee Ave.

This is the first year Arena will use the participatory budget process to spend his $1.3 million discretionary budget. About $300,000 will be held back to cover cost overruns and emergency projects, Brugh said.

At six community meetings this fall, attendees came up with more than 100 ideas about how the $1 million should be spent. Over the last several months, committees whittled down the suggestions.

The alderman and his staff picked the items on the ballot, with several being removed at the last minute, including a plan to use $500,000 to fund a streetscaping project on Irving Park Road between Elston Avenue and Pulaski Road.

In addition, voters will not be able to choose to spend $60,000 to paint 10 to 12 murals throughout the ward or to spend between $28,000 and $40,000 to build sculptures at seven locations in Jefferson Park and Portage Park. The city is revising its rules about the maintenance of murals and artist insurance.

Plans for a new playground at Roberts Square Park Advisory Council will also not appear on the ballot, after the group decided to submit an application to the Friends of the Parks for a grant to cover the cost of a playground, Brugh said.

However, voters can choose to spend $350,000 to add a rubberized play surface and two new play spaces to Independence Park. The ballot also includes a measure that would spend $30,000 for signs welcoming visitors to the Independence Park neighborhood along Irving Park Road at Hamlin Avenue, Lawndale Avenue and Ridgeway Avenue.

Other projects include $25,000 for fencing over the Kennedy Expressway between Avondale Avenue and the Gladstone Park Metra Station and $23,000 to add lights to the viaduct on Milwaukee Avenue near the Jefferson Park Transit Center.