Twenty projects with a total cost of over $11 million are on the participatory budgeting ballot Evanstonians will get to vote on next month.

With only $3 million in funding available and voters able to express a preference for up to seven projects, only a few are likely to actually end up being approved.

City Council set the participatory budgeting process in motion 20 months ago with a 6-0 vote to set up a council committee to run it, with funding to come from a slice of the city’s $43 million federal American Rescue Plan Act grant.

After several months of organizing and agreeing to spend $200,000 to hire staff to manage the program, a few dozen volunteers, aided by city staff, worked through several dozen initial proposals and held more than a dozen public meetings to narrow them down to the 20 that are being put to a city-wide vote.

Here’s a list of the projects.

Affordable Housing$810,000Pay landlords of owner-occupied properties to reduce the rent they charge tenants.
Rental Assistance$747,000Cover rent and utility costs for tenants who fear they may be unable to pay.
Equitable Fares$700,000Free rides on CTA for low-income residents, modeled on CTA U-Pass program.
Bike Vouchers$680,000Discounts for bike purchase or repair. Modeled on Denver program for e-bikes that’s expanded to statewide.
ForesTREE Internships$293,000Encourage careers in forestry.
Evanston Urban Farm$350,000Create a one-acre urban farm. Serve food-insecure households. Eventually become self-funding.
Mental Health First Aid$50,000Train public service employees in techniques.
Mobile Dental Van$2,500,000To serve Evanston, especially the 5th Ward.
Grants for Education, Training and Support$700,000Grants to racial minority students in 3rd through 12th grades.
Small Business Grants$150,000Grants of $14,500 each to 10 small businesses.
Small Business Incubator$495,000City-owned small business incubator.
Community Events Fund$230,000City financial support for “community-building events” hosted by private organizations.
Teen Parents Program$300,000Training program to encourage entrepreneurship among teen parents.
Roller Skating Project$530,000Replace the gym floor at Fleetwood-Jourdain Center to facilitate roller skating.
Youth and Young Adult Drop-in Center$210,000Renovate the existing center, provide funding for team building and retreats.
Low-Income Ambassadors for Evanston Families$220,000Hire 10-15 “low-income Evanston leaders” to alert neighbors to available city programs.
Affordable Refugee Housing$645,000Fund non-profits providing housing assistance to migrants.
African/Caribbean Resource Center$628,500Create an African/Caribbean Diaspora Cultural Center.
Asian American Art & Cultural Center$690,000Three-year funding for community space dedicatedd to Asian American history, art and culture.
Senior Transportation Assistance$225,000Increase funding for existing senior taxi subsidy program.

Matt Ouren, the the city’s participatory budgeting manager, says the budget estimates have been vetted by city staff for reasonableness.

He says that depending on the project, funding amounts specified are intended to last for one to three years.

Matthew Ouren.

The end of 2026 is an outer bound for using the money — that’s the deadline by which the federal government is requiring that all the ARPA money be spent.

‘NOTA’ is not an option

Evanston, of course has hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded pension liabilities and deferred maintenance costs on public buildings.

So some residents may skeptical about the idea of adding a bunch of new programs that will require local taxpayer-funds to continue beyond the pilot phase.

At least when local governments schedule referendums to approve new projects, “No” is an option on the ballot.

But NOTA — “None of the Above” will not be an option for people casting their ballots in the participatory budgeting election.

Ouren says residents who oppose the participatory budgeting projects instead can complain at City Council meetings.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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