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Ward Politics Wed Nov 14 2012

Arena Thinks Participatory Budgeting Could Expand

Participatory budgeting, at least at the moment, is not what you would call a widespread phenomenon.

Only four of the city's 50 wards -- the 5th, 45th, 46th and 49th -- are taking part in the process, wherein ward residents -- rather than aldermen -- get the chance to decide what to do with $1 million of aldermanic discretionary funds, which are known as "menu money."

But Ald. John Arena, whose 45th Ward encompasses a large chunk of the Northwest side from Nagle to Elston and from Devon to Waveland, thinks that more aldermen could soon jump on board.

"I think it will spread some more," Arena said Tuesday. "I think it'll expand over time."

The 49th Ward has gone through the participatory budgeting process every year since 2009, but the other three are new to it this year. Arena, who was elected last year, said that from almost the beginning of his term, he was thinking about bringing participatory budgeting into the ward.

"I was intrigued by it because it's a very transparent process," he said.

Participatory budgeting is a four-step process. Last month, each participating ward held several community meetings where residents could spitball ideas for how to spend the money. Step two will take place between now and March, when residents who asked to be community leaders will meet to decide which projects will wind up on the final list for residents to vote on. Step three will be the vote in May and the final step is implementation of the projects residents voted for.

Arena believes the process could work in other wards, though he was unsure about whether it could work at a citywide level. While he doesn't know if any aldermen are thinking about jumping on the participatory budgeting bandwagon any time soon, he knows at least one alderman -- Scott Waguespack of the 32nd Ward -- did consider it.

Arena does believe, however, that residents would like to see participatory budgeting expand into other parts of the city.

"I think the city of Chicago is engaged in their government," he said.


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