In the back room of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association headquarters at 84-20 Jamaica Ave., the civic group’s former president Ed Wendell stood watch over a cardboard box that was once used to transport printer paper.
The box was decorated with the words “Ballot Box” and stickers similar to the “I Voted” ones you get on a typical election day. Next to the box, ballots — printed on paper that perhaps came in the box — were stacked. On the ballots was a list of nine proposed projects that were drafted as part of the participatory budgeting process, sponsored by Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).
The participatory budgeting program allows residents themselves to determine where to allocate a certain amount of a Council member’s earmarks to capital projects in and around the district.
By 8 p.m., 14 votes were cast by Woodhaven residents at the block association office, one of a number of balloting locations in the section of the Community Board 9 area represented by Ulrich that includes Woodhaven, Richmond Hill and part of Ozone Park.
Among the projects appearing on the ballot: funding for countdown clocks at three bus stops; repaving paths in Forest Park; signs on those paths; rehabilitation of the Giovanelli Playground in Richmond Hill; and technology upgrades for select schools.
Voters can choose up to five of the nine projects. The winning projects up to $1 million will be funded through Ulrich’s office.
Ulrich included the northern portion of his district in the program for the first time. As one of the first Councilmen to conduct participatory budgeting, Ulrich has been doing it in the Rockaways for several years.
The first year of participatory budgeting in this part of the district did not go as smoothly as desired. Because of the shift in power at City Hall, the process did not begin until January.
At that time, budget delegates were appointed representing the communities in the district that were taking part and the projects were chosen, some from a selection of propositions made by the public during civic meetings. But snowstorms disrupted that process and the delegates were only able to meet twice.
But the ballot was created and this week the nine items are being put before voters.
At the Our Neighbor’s Civic Association meeting on Tuesday night at Christ Lutheran Parish Hall, about a dozen members who lived in the Community District 9 section of Ozone Park cast ballots. Ballots were also cast during the day in the Richmond Hill Block Association office at 110-08 Jamaica Ave.
The process did create some minor confusion. Some residents could not take part because they were not residents of the CB 9 area or didn’t live in the 32nd Council District. That included those living in Woodhaven west of 80th Street and Forest Park, Richmond Hill, generally south and east Atlantic Avenue and 108th and 113th streets and Ozone Park south of 103rd Avenue.
The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association lobbied Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) to institute participatory budgeting in her district, but she ultimately decided against it saying she believes it “pits communities against each other,” although she also praised the idea.
“I welcome all community input on budget ideas, and I will closely review the Woodhaven proposals from Councilman Ulrich’s participatory budgeting process in determining the best ideas for funding to improve all the communities I represent,” she said in a statement earlier this year.
Although 38 percent of Woodhaven residents live in her district, it represents only a fraction of the entire district, which includes Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village and Ridgewood, and there are concerns that Woodhaven items would get outvoted by the rest of the district.
Though no one at the WRBA offices voted on Monday who couldn’t, Wendell said he would make note of anyone who attempts to do so.
“I want to have this list so I can show Crowley’s people how much support there is here,” Wendell said.
Participatory budgeting came to New York City in 2012 and is favored by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhatttan, Bronx). Several other Council members have been conducting participatory budgeting across the city, including Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton).
Voting continues through Saturday and votes will be tallied next week. Those who still can cast ballots and wish to can do so at Ulrich’s office at 93-06 101 Ave. in Ozone Park through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. or at the WRBA office on Thursday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.