The participatory budgeting voting period instrumental in deciding how to spend a portion of Ald. Chris Taliaferro’s (29th) $1.23 million aldermanic menu money is over and the public has spoken. Three-hundred and ninety residents in the 29th Ward voted to spend around $650,000 of the money on street resurfacing.
They voted to spend the rest of the funds on Galewood Park improvements, improvements to the Newland Avenue pedestrian tunnel under the Milwaukee District West Metra Line tracks, the restoration of the mural on the Central Avenue viaduct under the Green ‘L’ Line/Union Pacific West Metra Line tracks, and replacing garbage cans along North and Harlem avenues.
The nearly 400 people who voted during the budgeting process this year is almost double the roughly 200 people who voted last year. This year’s number, however is still small in comparison to the number of eligible voters in the ward. More than 24,000 29th Ward residents voted in the 2016 presidential election.
When Taliaferro originally campaigned for alderman in 2015, he promised to become the first West Side elected officials to introduce participatory budgeting. He wasn’t able to do it during his first year in office due to a backlog of infrastructure projects.
In 2016, he set aside $700,000 in aldermanic menu money for participatory budgeting. He wasn’t able to do participatory budgeting for 2017 projects because the city changed deadlines for when projects need to be submitted. This November, however, residents were able to vote on projects for next year.
This time around, participatory budgeting vote had two parts. First, residents had to vote on how much of the money goes toward street resurfacing. Then, they were asked which three out of the five possible projects would be implemented. The projects were chosen based on both the number of votes and how much money wasn’t committed to street improvements.
Galewood Park improvements, which will cost $100,000, got the most votes. The city will replace the “outdated and deteriorating” mural on the fieldhouse wall, add a walking track near the baseball diamond and add a new adjustable basketball rim.
The project that got the second-highest number of votes was the most expensive project on the ballot. The city will spend $125,000 to spruce up of the Newland Avenue viaduct at the west end of Rutherford Sayre Park.
The viaduct runs under the Milwaukee District West Metra Line, which serves as a border between Galewood and Montlare. The 29th Ward website described the viaduct as “[being] an eyesore for years” The money will be use to repair and refurbish the structure, replace the nearby shrubbery with plants native to the area and add artwork on the viaduct walls.
The project that got the third-highest number of votes was the proposal to restore the Central Avenue mural under Green Line viaduct. Painted 10 years ago, it depicts Civil Rights movement leaders. Since then, some of the paint faded, and graffiti painted over it. The restoration will cost $32,500.
The final project to get approved entails allocating 55,000 to replace garbage cans along the section of North Avenue from Austin Boulevard to Chicago/Oak Park border, and the Chicago side of Harlem Avenue between North and Medill avenues.
Voting took place from Nov. 6 until Nov. 20. As before, residents could vote in the ward office, but Taliaferro also organized pop-up polling places at North Austin branch library, Northwest Austin Council offices and Rutherford-Sayer Park fieldhouse.