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Councilmember Lander Wants YOU to Participate in the Budget Process

Here's your chance to put your tax dollars where you want them.

Does that empty lot on the corner get you down? Do you want to see more trash cans on your block? You just might be able to do something about it, if you get involved with the new participatory budgeting initiative.

Spearheaded by Councilmembers Brad Lander, D-Brooklyn, Jumaane Williams, D-Brooklyn, Eric Ulrich, R-Queens and Melissa Mark-Viverito, D-Manhattan, the theory is, if you give residents a chance to say how capital funds should be spent in the district, they will participate in, and trust, the governmental process. 

"This is a time when faith in government is weakened," explained Lander in an interview. "But for those of us who believe democracy is at its best when we work together as a community to solve problems, this is an opportunity to take part."

The participatory budgeting initiative was , and in the coming weeks assemblies will be held across the 39th council district, represented by Lander. The first is 6:30 p.m. this Wednesday at Old First Reformed Church, 729 Carroll St., in Park Slope. Another will be held at in Carroll Gardens on Oct. 20 at 6:30 p.m.

And though getting involved in the process, which is groundbreaking and, some say, revolutionary, will take time, Lander and volunteers already on board say the initiative will prove to not only be worthwhile, but possibly game changing.

"The idea is so novel, it's something people won't want to miss," said Maria Pagano, a Carroll Gardens resident and President of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association. "If this works, we'll be part of something as pioneers."

Pagano has volunteered to do outreach in the Carroll Gardens community around the initiative, and is also running the PS 58 assembly with John Heyer II (a and .)

The assemblies will be run like forums, with small groups breaking out to discuss and debate different ideas and their merits. After the assemblies, budget delegate committees will be formed and ideas will be honed and made more precise. In March, there will be a "good old-fashioned democratic election," said Lander. Anyone of voting age and living in the district will be able to vote. There will be no online voting.

Lander hopes a wide swath of the district, which extends to Kensington and Borough Park, will get involved in all steps of the process. And ideas coming from individuals and not just already organized civic groups are more than welcome.

"We're trying hard to reach out to people through and beyond the normal networks," he said. "We welcome everyone who's excited, including people not already involved."

To help with outreach across the whole district, Lander has enlisted Zoilo Torres, an organizer with the Fifth Avenue Committee in Gowanus. Torres says this is an opportunity for residents to be active in their neighborhoods, and to make a difference in the lives of those around them.

"We all have a responsibility to contribute in our own way to the development of our communities," he said.

Both Pagano and Torres hope the project will attract a diverse group of participants.

"I hope we get the doubters, the young people with great hopes for the future, a cross section of believers and total cynics," said Pagano.

Lander and the other councilmembers were inspired by participatory budgeting initiatives in Brazil and Chicago, and when the Participatory Budgeting Project introduced the idea in New York, they were enthusiastic.

Each Councilmember will devote approximately $1 million from their discretionary capital budget funds to the ideas borne from the participatory budgeting process.

Lander says turning to the people for inspiration just makes sense.

"One great thing about Brooklynites is we've got really good ideas for things that will make a difference," he said.

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