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Vote is in for District 9

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District 9 residents have cast their online ballots in a vote believed to be the first of its kind to prioritize funding for community projects.

From May 29 to June 9, neighbors in the vast North Side district decided on their preferred, viable proposals in a process known as participatory budgeting.

An extended right-turn lane at northbound Huebner Road and Loop 1604 was a popular recommendation, as was filling sidewalk gaps along West Bitters Road near Blanco Road.

Officials said the voting was San Antonio’s first official try at participatory budgeting, which several U.S. cities are employing. All the results can be viewed at www.d9pb.org/2018-results.html.

“District 9 has led the way to one of the most successful participatory-budgeting efforts in the United States in just our first year,” said Councilman John Courage.

This method enables more people to be directly engaged in local government and how taxes are spent during the public fiscal process, officials said. Residents are encouraged to propose and support neighborhood initiatives, funded by a specific allocation amount.

Courage set aside $1.25 million, from across three pools of city money, for projects District 9 residents would like to see realized.

Months ago, constituents helped the councilman’s staff decide on 44 possible uses for the funding. Then, Courage and his aides narrowed the list to 19 feasible endeavors for online voting at www.d9pb.org.

The projects were explained and divided into different categories.

Residents tapped two of their favorites: fixing the Bitters sidewalk gap at Blanco ($78,000), and the Huebner turn lane ($258,000).

The city recorded 1,427 total responses. The “winners” are considered technical public recommendations to Courage.

He and the rest of the City Council are preparing the FY 2019 budget, which is to be approved in September.

Courage said he’s honored to represent an energized community.

“We even managed to top some comparable efforts in other cities that have been running similar processes for the last several years. I think it shows there really is an appetite for this type of process in San Antonio,” he said.

“I’m fairly impressed with it,” Stone Oak resident Art Downey added.

Chairman of the Stone Oak Property Owners Association, Downey was a committee member helping to compile the initial project list.

“Most of the ideas were reasonable, but they were beyond the scope of the money that was available,” Courage told presidents of District 9 neighborhood associations gathered May 24 in Stone Oak.

Though Downey originally was a participatory-budget skeptic, Courage and staffers ultimately did well in developing a solid number of District 9 initiatives, he said.

Other finalists vying for votes ranged from sidewalk and small-scale road improvements to new bicycle-patrol bikes and financial boosts to area nonprofits, such as Hardberger Park Conservancy.

“There may have been even more valid projects that didn’t get introduced, but this list was reasonable,” Downey said.

Other residents used Facebook to discuss participatory budgeting.

“I’m really excited after seeing the ballot,” said one woman. “The community projects are thoughtful, and the neighborhood/district projects are helpful improvements.”

Downey believes District 9 should attempt participatory budgeting again in 2019, and wonders whether other districts should, too.

“I think it’s a good first start,” he added.

Courage agreed.

“We are aiming to start the next round toward the end of this summer, and I hope even more folks will get engaged to have a direct say in how their tax dollars should be spent,” Courage said.

Folks at the meeting of District 9 leaders were briefed on the city’s overall budgeting process.

Office of Management and Budget Director Justina Tate told attendees there’s a chance the city may end up with a 2018 fiscal year end balance of $13 million, better than 2017.

Courage said, “$13 million is good, it gives us a lot of leeway to do some of the other things we’re obligated for.”

Details are still being ironed out concerning implementation.

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