By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
Nearly 900 residents – including teens – cast ballots to participate in the city’s first attempt at “participatory budgeting” in which ordinary people have a say in how public money is spent; they opted largely for public projects having to do with recreation.
Councilwoman Eileen Chapman – who spearheaded this project which was initially undertaken in 2021 – said voters opted to use up to $250,000 for three priority projects and if money is left over, the city will move down the list in order of popularity.
Voters cast their ballots in a variety of ways, including using the link on the city’s website where presentations of each project still remain and may be reviewed.
The top vote getter was park benches in the form of art park benches which earned 229 votes. According to the presentation, these benches would each be original works of art installed after a call for works to local artists. They are meant to allow lovers of art to interact with and start a conversation. Initially, the installations would start at Sunset Lake and potentially over the next years be extended throughout the city. The project cost is $50,000.
The second project will be playgrounds improvements at Sunset Lake Park – which would convert a small corner of the park from passive to active recreation with swings for children and adults, climbing stations and benches and picnic tables for playing cards and other activities. It earned 200 votes.
The third vote getter improvements to Deal Lake including a walking path which received 109 votes.
Deal Lake, officials said, is the only lake in the city without a walking path and it makes enjoyment of the lake difficult because its views are blocked by parked cars and it is a heavily trafficked area. The proposal also calls for the restoration of one concrete dock there and the creation of a pollinator garden. It is the only lake in the city without a garden, officials said.
The participatory budget program allowed residents age 14 and older to vote on how to spend $250,000 in capital funds to improve community spaces. Almost 900 resident votes were received by mail, drop off and online. Voters were able to choose between 14 project ideas listed on the ballot.
Work will begin on finalizing details and costs of the ideas as well as securing any required approvals prior to implementation. Once final costs are determined, additional projects may be funded, officials said.
If there are funds left over, work could be authorized on a dog park at Library Square which received 96 votes. Other potential projects for surplus funds include construction of a pavilion on St. John’s Island, which was preferred by 67 people., Next most popular was a dog park for Main Street at Seventh 7th Avenue; that project received 51 votes