April 18, 2016 By Michael Florio
Residents voted to upgrade neighborhood parks and bring bus countdown clocks to the district when they went to the polls last month to determine how $1.5 million of city capital should be spent in the district via a process called Participatory Budgeting.
Participatory Budgeting allows constituents to vote on how capital dollars should be spent in their district. More than 1,700 residents of Council Member Costa Constantinides’ district voted this year, with $1.5 million up for grabs.
The most votes (709) went to a $500,000 project to repair or install new water fountains in Astoria Park.
The installation of picnic and gaming tables at Astoria Park, which will have chess/checker boards painted on them, came in a close second with 704 votes. This project will cost $250,000.
Constantinides will host a scoping meeting where residents can help identify locations throughout the park for these tables.
“The park is the jewel of the neighborhood,” Constantinides said. “This speaks to the nature in which residents view the park and its importance on the community.”
A $480,000 project to bring 24 bus countdown clocks to the district came in third with 682 votes. Each countdown clock costs $20,000. Constantinides will host a meeting where residents will be able to discuss which bus stops should receive the clocks.
Bus lines in his district include the M60, Q18, Q19, Q33, Q47, Q69, Q100, Q101, Q102, Q103 and Q104.
“Residents also care about improving mass transit,” he said. “Knowing when the buses will arrive is a huge priority.”
Constantinides increased the money allocated to $1.5 million this year compared to $1 million last year, to ensure that at least $500,000 also went to the East Elmhurst/Jackson Heights portion of his district.
Both of the winning projects in this area involve upgrades at Bulova Park, at 25th Avenue and 76th Street.
The first project will fund the upgrade of the fitness equipment at the park, which will cost $250,000. The second project will repair the handball courts in the park, which will cost $150,000.
The funding for these projects will be put into the budget in June, and then they will go through a scoping, procurement and construction process.
“They have to go through the normal City processes,” Constantinides said.
In total, 1,710 residents voted in this session, which took place from March 28 through April 3. That number was down from 2,200 residents that voted in 2015.
However, Constantinides said the important aspect is that residents were able to decide how to spend the funding.
“We were all over the neighborhood engaging the community,” he said. “[We reached] those residents who often aren’t a part of the electoral process and allowed them to have their voice heard.”
This is the second year Constantinides has brought participatory budgeting to his district.
He plans on bringing the process back to his district next year.
“Next year we hope to engage even more voters and increase the enthusiasm so the community can continue to have their voices heard,” he said.