This is PB month.
Evanstonians (and some non-residents as well) can vote in the Participatory Budgeting (PB) election, deciding how to spend three million tax dollars.
Normally, that’s City Council’s call, but Council set aside some federal ARPA COVID relief funding for community decision in a one-year PB experiment.
20 projects are on the ballot, mostly for a variety of social services.
But with those projects adding up to $11 million, there’s no way all 20 can be covered.
So, the PB website explains that “Each voter may select 1-7 proposals. The proposal with the most votes will be funded, followed by the proposal with the second most votes, and so on until the entire $3m funding is spent.”
But what the website does not say that is that, at least in theory, a project coming in, say 19th or 20th in the balloting could end up funded, while others with far more votes could get shut out.
Suppose five projects with the highest number of votes add up to $2.8 million.
That leaves $200,000 left before hitting the $3 million wall.
In response to a question from Evanston Now, PB manager Matt Ouren said, “We would then skip the next one if it pushes the total over the $3 million. We would see if any projects were under $200,000” and those would be funded “in order” until the $3 million was gone.
Yes, this is a series of “what ifs?”, depending on how the voting turns out.
But with an average price tag of nearly $560,000 per project, it’s quite possible that some top finishers could lose out, while others near the bottom could end up in the money.
This is particularly likely if the most expensive proposals come in as top vote-getters.
The priciest program is a mobile dental van, at $2.5 million. If that ends up #1, nine other projects would automatically lose out. That’s because each of those projects by itself would push the total over $3 million.
PB would then hopscotch through other projects to find (in vote order) what adds up to reach the cap.
Another scenario could see the dental van get nothing even if it comes in second.
If a proposal like Affordable Refugee Housing ($645,000) comes in first, a $2.5 million proposal (the van) would be passed over, even if it had the second most votes, because that second-place finisher puts the total over $3 million.
Please note that this is not to single out the dental van, as there are other combinations of projects which could hit close to but not over the $3 million ceiling, triggering the game of PB hopscotch.
To make things even more complicated, it’s also possible for the ten least expensive projects to be funded, as they add up to less than $3 million combined.. But then, the same search begins to see if anything else can squeeze in under the cap.
Yes, there are a lot of hypotheticals here, and yes, it may be a bit much for PB to explain on its website.
But when the votes are ultimately counted, don’t be surprised if some high-rated projects get zilch, and some losers become winners.
To learn more about the specific projects, and how you can vote in the PB election, go to pbevanston.org.