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Councilmembers Announce New Discretionary Funding Plan

Brooklyn's Brad Lander one of four electeds to launch "participatory budget" initiative.

Residents of the 39th City Council District in Brooklyn will get the opportunity to participate in a pilot program that allows everyday citizens to decide how city funds are spent in their neighborhoods.

In a press conference Wednesday afternoon at City Hall, Councilman Brad Lander, D-Brooklyn, announced the launch of a "participatory budgeting" initiative that will be rolled out during the 2011-12 fiscal year in four Council Districts across the city.

"We are excited to put budgeting power directly in the hands of the people," Lander said. "Not only will next year's budget be more democratic as a result, it will also be more effective because our constituents know best where money needs to go in our community."

The process, which will begin in October with the formation of "neighborhood assemblies" composed of residents tasked with creating a shortlist of neighborhood projects deserving of city money, will determine how each participating councilmember's discretionary funds are spent.

That allotment, which varies from member to member, totals "a few million dollars," according to Lander.

In addition to Lander, Councilmembers Jumaane Williams, D-Brooklyn, Melissa Mark-Viverito, D-Manhattan, and Eric Urich, R-Queens, will participate in the pilot program.

"It's about your money. Your voice. Your vote," Williams said at City Hall.

After the neighborhood assemblies meet in October, a series of delegate meetings are scheduled, culminating in a March vote to choose the top five projects deserving of city funds. All district residents over age 18, regardless of immigration status, will be able to participate in the vote.

According to the plan's backers, participatory budgeting—though common in places like Brazil—is a fairly new concept in the U.S. Chicago, the only other American city to test the "democratic budgeting" initiative, launched its version of the program in 2009.

Lander said the process was not meant to supplant or overshadow the function of community boards, which every year submit recommendations for a share of city funding allocated to each borough—a pool of money separate from that allocated to each councilmember.

"This program does not infringe on the role of community boards in any way," he said.

As for a possible expansion of the program into other council districts throughout Brooklyn and the rest of the city, Lander said the jury was still out.

"We will make mistakes," he said. "But we are confident that this experiment will succeed."

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