Tree-huggers are the big winners in this year’s participatory budgeting in Astoria.
Last Thursday, Councilman Costa Constantinides announced the results of the district-wide initiative, where residents come up with and vote on capital projects to be funded. Each year, Constantinides allocates more than $1 million in funds to the projects with the most votes.
This year, 3,617 residents cast a ballot, more than doubling last year’s vote total. Tree plantings, which will cost $36,000 received 1,471 votes, taking the top spot.
In a private event with participatory budgeting volunteers, Constantinides thanked the supporters for their work.
“Participatory budgeting only works when the community is engaged,” he said. “You made this process special this year.”
Other projects that will be funded include bus countdown clocks, accessible entrances for the Astoria library, and technology upgrades in other libraries.
The councilman will also allocate funds for solar panels at the Steinway library branch, a STEM lab at the Young Women’s Leadership School, and parking lot lighting at Astoria Houses.
“All of the projects were worthy of being funded,” Constantinides said.
All of the projects will be included in this year’s capital budget, he added. The projects typically go through a multi-year process that includes scoping, procurement for contracts and construction.
“This is a process,” he said. “You won't see shovels in the ground tomorrow.”
The participatory budgeting winners from two years ago, including a dog run, will break ground later this year. PS 126’s playground has already started construction.
Last year, the winners were two projects at Astoria Park, which will be included in the Parks Department’s $30 million Anchor Parks Initiative, Constantinides said.
When asked why the turnout was particularly high this year, the councilman pointed to the addition of online voting, but he noted that they received more paper ballots this year as well.
“The addition of online voting was a wonderful access point for people to be involved and get their votes in,” he said. “But it wasn't just online, people were engaged.”
James Bond, an Astoria resident since 2010, was a proponent of the additional street tree plantings. After contacting several neighbors and speaking to the local community board, Bond connected with Constantinides, who convinced Bond to get involved with participatory budgeting.
“I emailed his office and said I would be happy to participate,” he said.
Bond praised the participatory budgeting process for allowing residents to brainstorm ideas of their own. He said the initiative is run “just right.”
“You have to have a few meetings, not too much, not too little,” he said. “They've been able to accomplish their objective in a balanced way.
“And I love the idea of participatory budgeting, in which local residents have a voice,” he added. “Everybody is involved.”
He said as long as he’s available next year, he would like to be involved again.
“When I meet people or when it comes up, I definitely tell other people about it,” Bond said.