Jersey City announces results of unique initiative — one where resident-created projects are added to budget

Participatory Budget Pilot Program allowed each of six wards to decide how $50,000 appropriation would be spent

How’s this for truly serving the needs — and wants — of your residents: Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop recently announced how the city will fund $50,000 initiatives in each of the municipality’s six wards.

Here’s the catch: All of the initiatives were suggested — and voted on — by residents as part of Jersey City’s first Participatory Budget Pilot Program.

Fulop said the idea worked even better than he and the city had hoped.

“With this Participatory Budget Pilot, our goal was to engage residents and get them more directly involved so that we can best meet the community’s needs, while simultaneously giving them the tools to understand the entire process better,” he said. “The results exceeded our expectations.

“Now that residents in each ward have chosen, we are moving forward on implementing all 14 projects citywide.”

Here’s how it worked.

In March, an online application portal for ideas opened. Residents were encouraged to get creative — and each proposal was asked to explain how the project benefits the community and its location.

In addition to encouraging submissions, the pilot program provided shared context as to how the municipal budget works, how much things cost and what lies within the city’s range versus other government entities, city officials said.

The city also offered multiple tutorials and educational materials ahead of the voting period to encourage more residents to participate.

Residents from each ward submitted and voted to approve the following projects for the city to implement:

Ward A

  • $32,000 to create family literacy, writing and computer workshops;
  • $10,000 in Martiniak Enright park improvements;
  • $8,000 to construct a water fountain in Bayside Park.

Ward B

  • $50,000 to plant trees along West Side Avenue and multiple other Ward B locations, as decided by residents.

Ward C

  • $50,000 to plant trees along Newark Avenue and additional locations throughout Ward C.

Ward D

  • $40,000 to plant trees in the Heights and other locations throughout Ward D;
  • $5,000 to build a bus shelter at the intersection of Palisade Avenue and Congress Street.

Ward E

  • $30,000 to include more planters at crosswalks throughout downtown for added safety and beautification purposes;
  • $15,000 to improve the playground on Merseles Street near Firehouse 5;
  • $5,000 to add water fountains in J. Owen Grundy Park.

Ward F

  • $30,000 to plant more trees in various locations, as chosen by residents of Ward F;
  • $15,000 to support the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program;
  • $5,000 to construct a water fountain in Ercel F. Webb Park.

Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey said the idea proved to be a win-win for all involved.

“The Participatory Budget gives residents information on our budgeting process and a better understanding of the inner workings of our capital and operating budgets,” she said. “We got really great suggestions from all across the city, which helps us to understand what our residents’ priorities are.

“At my quarterly community meeting, we received really great feedback from residents, and I look forward to including that input to expand the program even more next year.”

Ward E Councilman James Solomon agreed.

“Jersey City’s participatory budgeting pilot has given residents more hands-on control of the City’s budget,” he said. “I am excited to see these projects built in our city, and for the program to grow with more engagement in the coming years.”

Barkha Patel, director of the department of infrastructure and former assistant business administrator, said the payoff will be greater than the projects.

“We were pleased to see that our interactive voting tools encouraged participation from community members who would not have engaged in our typical outreach processes,” she said. “We look forward to working with the community as we implement these projects over the next few months to continue building more transparency into this process.”