When South Queens residents see a better Woodhaven Boulevard in the near future, or a new fence around JHS 210 in Ozone Park, they’ll be able to give themselves a pat on the back.
Recently getting a taste of what direct democracy tastes like, some South Queens residents got a chance to vote last week on how to spend more than $2 million in the areas covered by Community Boards 9 and 14 in Councilman Eric Ulrich’s (R-Ozone Park) district.
As part of an initiative called participatory budgeting – which elected officials can opt to implement – residents in Woodhaven, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, and Rockaway voted during the week of March 31 to decide how to spend a little more than $2 million in city funding for their neighborhoods.
From a list of nine proposals, residents in in CB 9 were able to cast their ballots for five – and the winners, Ulrich announced this week, included school upgrades to JHS 210 in Ozone Park, PS 273 in Richmond Hill, PS 60 in Woodhaven, and PS 64 in Ozone Park.
The other four projects that were approved included the installation of real-time bus clocks at four bus stops, paving along Woodhaven Boulevard, repaving paths in Forest Park, and upgrades at Richmond Hill Library.
This is the first year that CB 9 residents have been able to partake in the budgeting process. Nearly 1,000 individuals in CB 9 and CB 14 participated this year.
“I am deeply grateful to everyone that contributed to the participatory budget process this year,” Ulrich said in a prepared statement. “My constituents have proven that they want a say in how their tax dollars are spent. I look forward to bringing the process back next year and working with my constituents to expand their voice in the budget process.”
Residents were able to go to a number of different places to cast their votes, including Ulrich’s office and the WRBA headquarters. At the block association, 108 voters came – which included a handful of Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s (D-Middle Village) constituents. Crowley did not participate in the budgeting process, and because the residents did not live in Ulrich’s district their votes did not count. Still, the WRBA allowed the residents to complete the ballots – not as part of the formal participatory budgeting process but in an effort to pass on their preferences to Crowley’s staff. Their votes were not counted in the final tally.
“Only a tiny fraction of eligible voters ended up casting ballots,” civic leader Alex Blenkinsopp, a member of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association and Community Board 9, said. “But many of those who did vote were well-informed and obviously very concerned about their community. We’re grateful to the residents who made the effort to voice their opinions through the participatory budgeting process.”
“A million dollars can make a real difference in the community, and we’re pleased some people recognized that fact,” Blenkinsopp continued. “I hope next year’s process will be smoother and that we’ll have even better turnout.”
By Anna Gustafson