Halloran hands budgeting reins to his constituents

City Councilman Dan Halloran (r.) discusses the participatory budget process with a core group of community leaders who will make the idea into a reality. Photo by Joe Anuta
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Constituents of City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) started a year-long process last week of deciding where their tax dollars will go.

Halloran is one of eight Council members across the city, including three in Queens, who will allow residents to pick budget items, a process known as participatory budgeting.

“This is an experiment,” Halloran said. “It may work. It may not work.”

But about 20 people crammed into the councilman’s office Aug. 8 to give it a try.

The civic leaders and neighborhood residents were charged with setting the groundwork for what will be a year-long process. The initial team will be charged with organizing large public assemblies in the fall, when the community can submit any ideas for how $1 million should be spent. Smaller groups will then vet the items and eventually place several of them on a ballot to be voted upon.

For the project, Halloran is setting aside one-third of his capital budget, which typically funds physical projects like park improvements and upgrades to schools.

But he warned that the process may not be an ideal fit with his district, one of the largest in the city, since the various neighborhoods might want different projects.

“I have five very different communities I represent,” Halloran told the group. “In effect, you will be competing against those other communities when you are doing your initiative because there is a finite pool of money.”

But Donata Secondo, a project coordinator with the nonprofit facilitating the process, said similar concerns were allayed last year in the Rockaways when Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) tested the process in several neighborhoods on the peninsula. After volunteers vetted all the proposals, they ended up consolidating them into items that benefited the entire district.

For example, the constituents in Ulrich’s process funded new oxygen systems for a volunteer fire department in the area and technology upgrades for several schools,, according to Ulrich spokesman Rudy Giuliani, who is not related to the former mayor.

“The councilman definitely likes it,” Giuliani said, adding that Ulrich is now in his second year with the program.

The team gathered in Halloran’s office will organize the public assemblies and start the vetting process, where volunteers call up city agencies and gauge the feasibly of each suggestion. By next spring, they will have narrowed all the ideas down to a few projects that will then be put on a ballot.

Halloran has pledged to submit the winning items in his yearly request, although he would like to see more money available.

“We have a shot at making government a little less an old boys’ or girls’ club, and more about the needs of the people,” he said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 8:44 pm, August 15, 2012
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