CHICAGO (CBS) — A total of $1 million in city funds to fix up infrastructure – how should we spend it?

A Chicago alderman is asking his ward. CBS 2’s Tara Molina looked into the approach some aldermen are taking to get you more involved.

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This 40th Ward on the city’s North Side is getting people involved with what Ald. Andre Vasquez calls the People’s Budget. Constituents can fill out an online form to vote on projects and improvements for the ward’s neighborhoods. An announcement posted by Ald. Vasquez’s office reads:

“The People’s Budget program was introduced to create space for neighbors to decide how to spend $1 million improving their neighborhoods! Each year Alderman Vasquez designates $1 MILLION of the $1.5M for neighbors to decide how to invest through democratic voting!

“Whether it be repaving alleys, repairing sidewalks, or creating designated bike lanes – you as 40th Ward neighbors submit the ideas, they get vetted for feasibility by city departments, and then every neighbor 14 years or older can vote on what ideas and appropriations will move forward!”

The $1 million is aldermanic menu money that each of Chicago’s 50 aldermen receive every year – specifically for ward infrastructure improvements like sidewalk repairs.

“Typically, the aldermen would just make those decisions themselves, but we knew we wanted to take those funds and put them in the hands of the people to decide,” Vasquez said.

He puts one million of the ward’s $1.5 million in menu money up for a vote.

“We say: ‘Hey! Help us spend a million bucks,’” Vasquez said. “People who’ve never thought about getting involved start to get involved and they get a better sense of how government works. How much things cost.”

Vasquez is of a few aldermen who lets those he represents have a say in exactly where that money goes.

It’s called participatory budgeting, and in this case, it looks like a simple form people who live in the ward can fill out online – ranking what projects are most important to them and what they’d like to see this coming year, with a cost for each project…

“Floodlights, viaduct improvements, cameras,” Vasquez said as he outlined some of the examples.

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So far, the ward has seen more than twice as many people vote this year. The number one project pick right now, second to more police cameras, is “tree planting – $50,000 to planting trees across the ward,” Vasquez said.

Aldermanic menu money has been controversial in the past.

In a 2019 audit, the city’s Inspector General suggested taking the final say for infrastructure funding decisions from aldermen, and turning it over to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

You also may remember that according to a federal grand jury’s indictment of Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) on bribery charges, she and her chief of staff allegedly misused the ward’s menu money to benefit a construction company.

“It’s the idea that government should be accessible, transparent, and accountable,” Vasquez said.

That is in part why Vasquez said this was a priority for him after getting elected in 2019…

“It’s about moving forward in a way that changes government in Chicago and who it works for,” he said.

We heard back from a few aldermen who choose to use some of their menu money this way…put that info in this story on our website. One of them is Ald. Matt Martin (47th). His office writes:.

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The 1st, 39th, and 49th wards are also among the wards with such programs in place.

Source: CBS Chicago

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