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Jeff Park Library, Sayre Park Big Winners In Participatory Budgeting

By Alex Nitkin | October 31, 2017 5:57am
 Voters chose how much money they want spent on street resurfacing, with the rest split among specific projects listed on the ballot.
Voters chose how much money they want spent on street resurfacing, with the rest split among specific projects listed on the ballot.
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CHICAGO — Every item included on this year's 36th ward participatory budgeting ballot — including new bike racks, "neighborhood celebration signs" and a rehabbed pedestrian tunnel for Rutheford-Sayre Park — will be funded in 2018, Ald. Gilbert Villegas announced Monday.

The ward will be able dedicate its infrastructure budget toward all seven projects, mostly concentrated in Belmont Cragin, because voters chose a low enough target for road resurfacing that more than $500,000 was left over, according to the announcement.

Villegas is one of a handful of aldermen who open up their $1.3 million annual infrastructure funds up to the participatory budgeting process, which asks constituents to choose how they'd like to see the money spent. The aldermen let voters decide how to spend about $1 million, with the remaining $300,000 set aside for cost overruns and ad-hoc projects.

Ald. John Arena (45th) also held participatory budgeting in his ward, and on Saturday he announced voters had chosen to give Jefferson Park Public Library, 5363 W. Lawrence Ave., a $175,00 facelift. The project would pay for new lights and carpeting, on top of repairs to surrounding sidewalks.

The renovation was the only named project on the ballot to be approved. Unlike in Villegas' ward to the south and west, Arena's constituents voted to spread the majority of their budget into street repairs across the ward.

The 45th Ward will spend at least $510,000 on road resurfacing, enough to fully pave about seven city blocks. Another combined $300,000 will go toward patching curbs and sidewalks across the ward.

One of the top runners-up, a proposal to fit a permanent light installation under the Milwaukee Avenue Metra viaduct in Jefferson Park came about 100 votes shy of approval.

Arena had skipped the last round of participatory budgeting, citing sagging participation. But his office re-upped this year by allowing online voting and launching a relentless social media campaign, ultimately drawing 723 voters — more than triple the number who voted for the ward's 2016 budget.

By contrast, the 36th ward saw a decline in participation, from 1,070 to 732 voters this year, according to Justin Heath, Villegas's director of policy.

Heath called the decline a natural consequence of this year's ballot concentrating so heavily on Belmont Cragin, a predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood known for having one of the lowest voter participation rates in the city, he said.

"A good thing about participatory budgeting is that it's practice for voting," Heath said. "So we're happy to see so many young people and underrepresented communities get involved."

The following projects are all due to be funded next year by through the 36th Ward budget:

• $55,000 to beautify the West Belmont Public Library, 3104 N. Narragansett Ave., and make it wheelchair-accessible

• $95,000 for a new mural and diagonal parking lot outside the Word of Life Church of God, 2254 N. Narragensett Ave.

• $40,000 for new security measures, garbage cans, drinking fountains and benches for Locke Elementary School, 2828 N. Oak Park Ave.

• $125,000 for "structural and aesthetic" improvements to the pedestrian tunnel in Rutherford-Sayre Park, 6871 W. Belden Ave.

After "leaks and cracks" are repaired, a mural would be painted in the tunnel by artist Rich Alapak, Heath said. The project would memorialize Isaias Ceja, a Prosser Career Academy graduate who was fatally struck by a Metra train near the park earlier this year.

• $100,000 for traffic circles at five residential intersections around the ward. The money would also fund new garbage cans along Armitage, Belmont, Grand and Fullerton avenues and Addison Street.

• $50,000 for 10 metal "neighborhood celebration signs" in each of the five neighborhoods touched by the ward: Portage Park, Montclare, Dunning, Belmont-Cragin and Hermosa.

The money would also fund 40 bike racks, spread among all 14 schools and three parks in the ward, built by the non-profit Bikes N' Roses.

• $55,000 for an automated irrigation system for the community garden outside Prosser, to replace the single hose currently run from the school.

Villegas will direct most of the remaining $300,000 in his ward's infrastructure budget to road resurfacing, Heath said.