PORTAGE PARK — For the first time, residents of the 36th Ward will decide how to spend their local alderman's $1 million discretionary budget.
Ald. Gilbert Villegas, who was elected in April, hosted three neighborhood assemblies to develop the list infrastructure projects that residents will ultimately vote on in the spring.
"This is a good vehicle to engage the community," Villegas said. "I want to get people involved in what's going on in the ward."
There is still time for residents of the ward, which includes the south and west sides of Portage Park, to submit ideas for the money via an online form, said Justin Heath, director of policy for Villegas.
The participatory budgeting process is intended to give ordinary people decision-making power over the city's budget, Villegas said.
More than 40 residents have signed up to help examine each proposal, and a nine-member executive committee will decide which make the ballot, Heath said.
The vote will take place in late April or early May, Heath said.
Voters will decide what percentage of the budget should be used to resurface streets, and as many projects as possible will be funded with the remaining money, up to $1 million. Approximately $300,000 will be kept in reserve for emergencies, officials said.
Some of the projects under consideration include a mural at North Grant High School in Humboldt Park and an electronic message sign at Lloyd Elementary School in Belmont Cragin, Heath said.
Polling places will be set up during the election throughout the ward, which is shaped like a horseshoe after its boundaries were changed significantly in November, Heath said.
"We want to make sure as many people vote as possible," Heath said.
Villegas replaced Ald. Nicholas Sposato, who now represents the 38th Ward.
Aldermen annually receive approximately $1.3 million earmarked for infrastructure improvements — paving streets, upgrading traffic signals and replacing street lamps.
In the past, aldermen — including Sposato — have directed the spending themselves but in recent years a number of council members have begun soliciting project ideas from constituents and putting them to a vote.
Villegas said he was using the process used by Ald. John Arena in the 45th Ward.
"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel," Villegas said.
For more information about the participatory budgeting process in the 36th Ward, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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