Credit: Francia Garcia Hernandez/AustinTalks

Participatory budgeting is returning to the 29th Ward after a one-year absence – with a few tweaks. 

In the past, Ald. Chris Taliaferro had all residents ages 14 and up vote on all projects within the ward. But this year, he split the ward into three sections, and each section will have its own set of projects the residents will vote on separately.  

In the past, residents got to weigh in on how much would be spent on infrastructure on top of that, and how much would go on more elaborate projects, such as waste receptacles and murals. This time, $1.1 million has been set aside for immediate needs.  

His participatory budgeting, or a democratic process that allows residents to make spending decisions about the “aldermanic menu” funds, kicked off Nov. 14. The goal is to hold final voting in March so that construction work can begin in April. 

Every year, each alderman gets $1.5 million they can spend on infrastructure needs however they please. A handful of alders let the constituents vote on the priorities, Taliaferro is the only West Side alderman to follow that practice. He has made some tweaks to the process over the years, but one consistent feature has been that he set aside some funds for pressing infrastructure funds, such as street repaving, and let his constituents vote on how to spend the rest.  

Taliaferro said that he is dividing the remaining money into three equal parts, with each section getting $150,000. The north section will include Galewood, Montclare and Dunning portions of the ward. The central section will include the portions of the ward east of Austin Boulevard and north of Lake Street. The south section will be everything south of Lake Street. 

The number of projects that get approved will depend on how much they cost. In 2021, for example, all but one project on the ballot got approved because they fell within the budget. And, as Taliaferro noted, approval doesn’t guarantee the projects will happen. For example, North Avenue pedestrian crossing improvements approved for 2021 were vetoed by the Illinois Department of Transportation, which controls the roadway portion of the street. 

In the past, Taliaferro reserved $500,000 for immediate infrastructure needs and let residents vote on how much of the remaining $1 million they want to spend on infrastructure on top of that. He said that, this time around, he decided to set a hard amount because the backlog was still large.  

When Taliaferro first ran for office in 2015, bringing participatory budgeting to the ward was one of his campaign promises.  But he didn’t fulfill his promise until 2016, saying at the time that the backlog of infrastructure issues he inherited was so great that he couldn’t spare any money for participatory budgeting. But since then, he largely held it every year, even during the pandemic.  

During the introductory meeting, which was held at the 29th Ward office, Taliaferro said that he didn’t do one for 2023 because, coming off the pandemic, the infrastructure needs once again accumulated. 

The ward staff is putting together volunteer committees to help collect ideas and get the word out about the participatory budgeting. During the Nov. 14 meeting, which was attended by 15 people, many of whom are no strangers to participatory budgeting, several volunteered to serve as committee heads. Steve Green, chairperson of the Galewood Neighbors community organization, is co-heading the north section committee with resident Vee Thomas. Mary Cole and Maria Sorrell are co-leading the central section, and resident Angela Savage joined Chicago West Side Chamber of Commerce executive director Tina Augustus and Island Civic Association community organization vice-president Beverly Howard in co-heading the south section committee.  

Residents who are interested in volunteering for any of the committees should contact can contact Anita Hayes, the ward director of infrastructure, at (773) 237-6460 or Taliaferro said that he hopes that the committees will have their first meeting as soon as late November/early December. 

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...