Residents of the 29th Ward who are older than 14 have until Jan. 29 to vote on how Ald. Chris Taliaferro will spend around $1 million in aldermanic menu funds.
Every year, each alderman gets $1.4 million in city funds to spend on infrastructure-related projects, which include anything from fixing up sidewalks to painting murals.
While most aldermen spend the money however they want, Taliaferro has been among a handful of aldermen, and the only West Side alderman, to give his constituents a say in the process through participatory budgeting.
The ballots were officially released on Jan. 11. As it has been the case since Taliaferro started doing participatory budgeting five years ago, the ballot is divided into two parts: how much money the residents want to spend on street resurfacing and what projects they want to spend the remaining funding on.
This year, the projects include neighborhood identification signs in the Galewood portion of North Avenue; murals in Sayre Language Academy elementary school, 1850 N. Newland Ave., and the Columbus Park field house, 500 S. Central Ave.; adding speed bumps and four-way stop signs; community garden improvements; adding an outdoor fitness course at Austin Town Hall park, 5610 W. Lake St.; and adding bike lanes to portions of Roosevelt Road and Austin Boulevard. The projects were outlined in Taliaferro’s most recent newsletter.
As has been the case in the past, 29th Ward staff will choose which streets get resurfaced based on resident input, research by the ward’s Street and Sidewalks Committee, as well as information from the Chicago Department of Transportation.
Resurfacing would be specifically limited to residential streets and sidewalks. Residents will be able to vote on what percentage of the menu money would be used toward resurfacing, choosing either 60 percent, 70 percent, 80 percent, 90 percent or all the menu money.
The spending of the remaining money will be based on both which projects get the most votes and how much money is available. There are also some unexpected factors that can interfere with the project.
The most expensive item on the project list is installing metal neighborhood identification markers on the Galewood side of North Avenue, between Austin Blvd. and Rutherford Ave. The project would cost around $168,000 and would encompass most of Galewood’s southern border. The project would only be possible if 29th ward residents vote to allocate no more than 80 percent of the funding toward infrastructure.
Another major item would be putting a mural or a mosaic on the Columbus Park field house wall facing Central Avenue. The project would cost around $60,000. The artwork would be designed by an artist contracted by the city with input from local youth.
The Sayre Language Academy mural would be created by students working with a teaching artist, who would come up with the design and install the mural. This mural would be cheaper than the Columbus Park project, costing round $25,000.
Another major item would be adding outdoor fitness equipment to Austin Town Hall grounds. The information provided by the ward office doesn’t elaborate where it would be located, but there is some potential space in front of the field house, as well as to the west and the north of the building. This project would cost around $60,000.
As has been the case in the past participatory budgeting ballots, one of the choices is community garden improvements. In this case, around $20,000 would be spent on a community garden in Columbus Park, as well as the Harambee Community Garden at 455 N Waller Ave., near Douglass High School, and Austin Green Team community gardens.
The remaining choices on the ballot are infrastructure projects, including spending $30,000 on speed bumps and stop signs, or spending $150,000 to add bike lanes on the portions of Austin Boulevard and Roosevelt Road.
Because the staff has been keeping in-person interactions to a minimum to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the voting is taking place entirely online this year using a two-tier process.
First, residents must register to vote at https://go.uic.edu/PD29vote. Once registered, they will be sent a unique link which will allow them to fill out a ballot.