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Participatory Budgeting In The 50th Ward? Residents Push For Referendum

By Linze Rice | July 6, 2016 6:46am
 Some residents in the 50th ward are trying to gather enough signatures for a November referendum to bring participatory budgeting to the community.
Some residents in the 50th ward are trying to gather enough signatures for a November referendum to bring participatory budgeting to the community.
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Getty Images/Scott Olson

WEST RIDGE — Residents of the 50th Ward could get a say in how $1.3 million in ward money is spent if grassroots efforts to get participatory budgeting on ballots in November are successful.

The People of West Ridge group is the driving force behind a campaign to collect 1,674 signatures from voters in the ward to support the democratic budget process, which is already being used in seven other wards — including the adjacent 49th Ward.

Every year, each alderman is given more than $1 million to spend on infrastructure upgrades in his or her ward.

Kathleen Reyes, president of People of West Ridge, said her group would like to see the 50th Ward added to the list of places where residents form committees and vote on how that money gets used.

"So far the response has been tremendous," Reyes said.

In the first three days, the group has collected more than 100 signatures from the specific voter base needed to include the referendum on the November ballot.

In order to do that, the group must first collect signatures from 8 percent of 50th Ward voters in each of its 40 precincts who participated in the 2014 gubernatorial election.

But Reyes said her group is aiming to get 15 percent of voters in each precinct in the hopes of convincing Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) to support its campaign.

Reyes said Silverstein was invited to earlier meetings being held by the group to discuss ideas, but the alderman was not able to attend.

Silverstein did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

"It's kind of a difficult process, because ... we're the first ward in the city that's trying to get participatory budgeting approved without the alderman on board," Reyes said. "What we're hoping is that we'll have such a high voter turnout with a high percentage of the vote that it's something she's going have to take a stand on."

Reyes said she would like to see participatory budgeting used in ways similar to that in the 49th Ward: replacing trees uprooted from a flash storm last summer; resurfacing roads; improving lighting; fixing sidewalks and alley aprons; and creating community gardens and parks.

Since becoming alderman in 2011,  Silverstein has spent "every penny" of the ward funds on filling potholes, Reyes said.

"Our feeling is that there's so much else that needs to be done," Reyes said. "Potholes, that's fine, that's really more of a city responsibility ... there's just a lot more we can do with" the money.

The group recently formed a steering committee made of community members, neighborhood and businesses leaders and an artist, and will continue meeting about once a week while also hurriedly collecting signatures before they're due to the Board of Elections on Aug. 8.

By Aug. 15, Reyes said she should know whether 50th Ward residents will be able to vote to bring participatory budgeting to West Ridge.

If participatory budgeting comes to the ward, Reyes said the next step would be to form language teams — spanning from Hindi to Spanish to Urdu and beyond — so residents in the ward would know how to participate in the budgeting process and vote for projects in the future, which would be open to all ward residents ages 14 and up.

"We'd like this to be all-inclusive," Reyes said. "We'd really like other community groups to join us, a lot of people support this."

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