The nine members of Evanston City Council are expected to decide on Monday how to spend some $400 million dollars in next year’s budget.
But three million of those dollars are being held for another decision making process, where citizens themselves vote directly on certain projects.
It’s called participatory budgeting, and PB leaders are now looking to get more people involved, with the first of several idea-generating sessions set for Nov. 22.
Here’s how it works:
Citizen volunteers come up with a list of potential spending options. That list is winnowed down to several finalists.
Those projects are then put to a public vote, at polling locations around town, with top choices getting the dollars. Voting is expected to take place next summer.
Ald. Devon Reid (8th) is chair of the concept’s leadership committee.
“It’s something I’ve been working on for four years,” Reid says, dating back to when he was city clerk.
Reid wanted up to $10 million set aside for participatory budgeting in the upcoming year, but Council only said yes to $3 million, with another $500,000 for staff and support services.
Participatory budgeting originated in Brazil, but domestically, started a lot closer to home, on the other side of Howard Street.
“It grew out of our neighbors just to the south,” in Rogers Park, Reid explains.
In Chicago, each alderperson is allotted $1.3 million for ward infrastructure projects. Usually the alder says where the money goes, but for the past 15 years or so, Rogers Park alders have let ward residents come up with the list, and then vote.
In recent years, approved projects have included street and alley resurfacing, outdoor exercise equipment in a park and planting flower beds.
In Evanston, the PB dollars come from federal ARPA funds, so projects have to fall within ARPA’s guidelines, which are fairly broad.
While there is always a danger that special interest groups will dominate the development and voting process, Reid says the end result should be the opposite.
Evanston’s PB, he says, will allow undocumented residents and even “folks who are age 14” to vote, along with other Evanstonians.
“The community will get a great opportunity to learn how government works,” he adds.
The series of “idea collection assemblies,” on potential projects, has meeting #1 next Tuesday, 6:45 p.m., at the Robert Crown Center.
To learn more about scheduled events and the overall process, go to pbevanston.org.
While there’s no guarantee that participatory budgeting will continue past this one year, Reid hopes it will not only succeed but continue.
“My goal,” he says, “is to use this to demonstrate the power of PB and make this a fixture in Evanston.”