From butterflies to smartboards, southwest Brooklyn residents make their choices in area’s inaugural participatory budgeting vote

Earlier this month, more than 2,000 Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst residents chose how to spend city funds allocated to their neighborhoods through participatory budgeting.

Throughout the month of April, constituents of the 46th District over the age of 11 were asked to vote on how they’d like to see Councilmember Justin Brannan spend one million dollars he’d earmarked from his capital funding.

It was the first time the district has taken part in participatory budgeting.

“It was a campaign promise of mine to finally bring participatory budgeting to our community for the first time ever,” the pol told this paper, adding that, while he’s happy with the inaugural polling’s turnout, he hopes to get even more constituents to cast their votes in the future. “The project really empowers people to decide together how to spend public money. I think it also opens people’s eyes to how much some of this stuff costs.”

Winning projects include (in order) new smartboards for P.S. 102 (826 votes), the creation of a butterfly habitat at Shore Road Park (810 votes), security cameras for Fifth Avenue (798 votes), smart boards for P.S./I.S. 30 (768 votes), new trees and tree guards (752 votes) and a meeting room upgrade for McKinley Library (551 vote).

The highest price tag belongs to the butterfly habitat, which will run $500,000.

Renovations to Dyker Park’s basketball and handball courts nearly made the cut, coming in sixth place with a total of 519 votes. Other contenders included upgrades to Vinland Playground, renovations to the bocce courts in McKinley Park, a new dog park at Cannonball Park, and security cameras for 18th Avenue and Bath Avenue, respectively.

Brannan said that while the winning projects will definitely see their funding, they may not be the only ones. “I will be taking a close look at the projects that didn’t make it into the winner’s circle because I may want to fund them as well,” he said. “We had a lot of great ideas submitted.”

The 12 projects people got to choose from were the product of several months of brainstorming during which Brannan’s office collected ideas from all over the district, which encompasses the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach.

Volunteers were then selected to serve on a steering committee, which then sorted through hundreds of ideas and submitted them to various city agencies for price quotes. The committee then examined the final price list and chose the best projects for the ballot.

Constituents could go to any of eight voting sites, and could also cast their ballots at several subway pop-ups and online.

Brannnan told this paper he was happy to see variety in the winning projects.

“I was happy to see the winning projects run the gamut from improvements to our local schools, parks, quality of life and public safety – something for everyone,” he said. “All in all, it was a good first year and I look forward to starting the process up all over again in the fall.”

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