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The organization that wants residents to vote on how $40K is spent on Milwaukee’s northwest side

todayAugust 25, 2023 1

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For residents on Milwaukee’s northwest side.

They will now vote on dozens of proposed community projects to decide how that money is invested in their community.

The African American Roundtable (AART) is providing the funding as part of its pilot program on participatory budgeting. The concept is a collective process in which community members directly decide how public dollars, or in this case organizational monies, are spent.

A steering committee of seven resident leaders helped create the process and establish guidelines. AART received more than 30 proposals on which residents can now vote on through October 6. The ideas that earn the most support will be funded.

“Yes, you have to be a Black resident of the Northwest Side to vote. But, one thing we’ve done with this process is we’ve lowered the age (to vote). In our process, we said 14 and older. We know young people deserve a vote, and with participatory budgeting we get to make the rules and we wanted to make the rules as inclusive as possible,” AART Membership and Coalition Manager Devin Anderson said.

Anderson added that AART can fund about four projects. Many of the proposals revolve around providing activities and resources for young people and giving them something to do.

“I think it was last year there was a lot of news coverage about young people just gathering at Midtown, but we have to get to the underlying things. Why are they there and not at the bowling alley, at the movie theater, at the mini-golf place, the public pools, right? Because they don’t exist,” he explained.

Leaders at AART are working to improve quality of life for Milwaukee’s northwest side residents. It’s an area they say “has seen decades of divestment, lack of leadership and neglect”. Their goal is to empower residents by listening to them, executing their desires and becoming a model for how the city can do the same.

In January 2020, the Common Council unanimously adopted a proposal to develop a plan for a city participatory budget initiative. It was signed by the mayor, but so far the process has stalled.

Jeff Fleming, communications director for the mayor’s office, said that resolutions are guides and work differently than new or modified ordinances. “If the previous administration did not complete an action specified in a resolution, the typical remedy would be for a Council committee to revisit the issue and seek testimony from the appropriate departments,” he explained.

Another option for community input came through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The federal pandemic relief dollars were set aside to help cities impacted by the pandemic. Aldermanic efforts to use a portion of these funds for participatory budgeting failed. The city did create an ARPA Funding Allocation Task Force that has held public meetings to glean feedback on city budgeting.

But Anderson said those efforts can’t be compared to AART’s work.

“We’re different from a task force, residents have the decision making power. So the residents are the people who are voting directly on it,” he explained said. “The ARPA Task Force… they only make recommendations.”

Fleming said the city’s current administration does want to hear from the public more about how the city spends its money.

“Over the next two months there are multiple public forums – public hearings, Council committee meetings, neighborhood meetings, and opportunities for written input – so voices can be heard,” he said. “We want suggestions for new and better ways to budget and allocate resources.  There are separate challenges with participatory budgeting which, at times, run at odds with representative democracy.  We want all Milwaukee voices to be represented in the budget process.”

To learn more about the African American Roundtable, click here to visit their website.

To vote: If you’re a Black resident (14 yrs old or older) living on Milwaukee’s Northwest Side who wants to vote on the community-proposed projects, click here to access the form. Deadline: October 6.

A billboard AART launched in April around Milwaukee to address budgeting of city resources.


Written by: Kim Shine

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