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Composting and Computer Labs Top Locals' Wish List for Williamsburg Funds

By Serena Dai | June 3, 2014 2:34pm
 Nearly 50 residents and local leaders gathered to hear about how they could nab money for their projects as part of District 34's first participatory budget year.
District 34 Participatory Budget Meeting
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WILLIAMSBURG — Composting, computers and community centers could all be in the running for $1 million in capital funds this year.

Nearly 50 residents and local leaders from District 34 turned out for Monday night's meeting with Councilman Antonio Reynoso in hopes of getting a piece of the pie for their projects in the first year of participatory budgeting for the area.

District 34 covers parts of Williamsburg, Bushwick and Ridgewood.

Tesa Wilson, president of School District 14's community education council, was excited by the way her neighbors in Councilman Stephen Levin's district 33 rallied behind education in his participatory budgeting process last year.

She's hoping area residents will rally behind her causes too. Her top three projects are buying computers, adding libraries and upgrading school yards.

"I'm optimistic," she said at Monday's meeting at Borinquen Plaza Community Center, 125 Humboldt St. "You have to be."

In participatory budgeting, anybody can pitch projects, and eventually, residents vote on which ones they want to see happen.

"If you want to win, you gotta get in the streets," Reynoso explained.

Resident Heather Rae Hatton also attended the meeting after hearing about how Levin's process went.

She was surprised that his process drew fewer than 2,000 votes — showing that an idea can come to life without tons of people, she said.

It inspired her to start thinking of new ideas, like creating a better community center to help the neighborhood become a destination, perhaps for arts after school programs.

"If we build it, they will come," she said.

Others saw it as a chance to get money for long-brewing projects. Ana Martinez De Luco, executive director of recycling group Sure We Can, has been looking to build composting infrastructure in the area, from compost bins to walking carts for senior citizens moving them.

Maybe it will finally move forward, she said.

"At least it's one opportunity," Martinez De Luco said.

Other people in attendance included community board members, a local principal, representatives of Bushwick Houses and Lindsay Park Housing, friends of parks people and residents.

More than half of the attendees ultimately signed up to volunteer to help manage the process, which comes to a vote next spring, according Jennifer Gutierrez, a Reynoso staffer.

"It's about people power," Reynoso said.