Questions about the People’s Budget? We’ve got answers.
To learn more about this year’s Participatory Budget process, check out our 2024 People’s Budget Kick-Off. To learn more about the projects on the ballot, check out our People’s Budget 2024 Project Breakdown.
What is Menu?
Each year, the 40th Ward is allotted $1.5 million of the City’s budget to be used for a “menu” of infrastructure maintenance projects and improvements. Menu money must be spent on permanent infrastructure: that means infrastructure projects that will stand the test of time. We cannot spend Menu funds on things like hiring additional city staff or non-infrastructural city work like tree-trimming or rat abatement.
You said you get $1.5M in Menu funds. How come we only get to vote on how to spend $1M of them?
We allocate $1M of Menu funds at the beginning of the year, as determined by voters through the Participatory Budget process. We reserve the remaining $500K to pay for any emergency repairs or urgent projects that come up throughout the year.
For example, if we submitted a traffic study at the end of the year for pedestrian safety improvements at a particular location, and we get back an estimate in March of the next year for what it would cost to implement those improvements, that remaining pool ensures that we have the funds to pay for those improvements, so we don’t have to wait until the next year to fund them.
What’s the difference between Menu Repairs and Special Projects, and why can I only vote on which projects to fund, and not which repairs?
Menu Repairs are projects that repair existing infrastructure. Some of the categories included under this umbrella are street resurfacing, alley resurfacing, sidewalk repairs, curb and gutter replacement, or alley apron repairs. Special Projects refers to the addition of new infrastructure, such as a neighborhood greenway, a mural at a local library, or a new installation at one of our city parks.
40th Ward residents can vote on what percentage of the $1M we spend on repairs, but cannot vote on which specific repairs to fund. There are several reasons for that: first, there are a lot of repair requests! We have hundreds of Menu repair requests from this year alone. Secondly, when deciding which repairs to prioritize, our office is responsible for considering a number of factors, including the urgency of the repair, whether there is already work planned in the area, and making sure we’re allocating money equitably across the Ward.
How do I tell how much money to allocate towards repairs vs. special projects? How much do repairs cost?
The exact pricing of a project depends on a number of factors. That said, the City of Chicago provides us with estimates for most types of Menu repairs each year, so Ward offices can appropriately allocate funds. Keeping those estimates in mind can be helpful as you vote on how much we spend on repairs vs. special projects.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of some of 2024 estimates for the most common types of Menu repair costs:
How do you decide which projects to put on the ballot?
The projects on the ballot are selected from neighbor proposals. Those proposals are reviewed by our People’s Budget Committee, made up of neighbors, who assess them for viability based on cost, location, and whether or not it is eligible for Menu funds. Once they reach a final list of viable projects, Ward office staff reaches out to the appropriate city departments to receive estimates on the projects, after which our Committee pares them down to the final ballot. Find out more about the factors we consider in choosing our final projects on our PB kick-off blog.
How do you determine the winning project? Are you ever able to fund more than one project?
We used ranked-choice voting, in which neighbors to rank each project from most to least favorable, to determine which projects receive the most support, and will be funded.
The amount of projects we’re able to fund depends on the percentage that voters choose to spend on repairs vs. special projects. Depending on the amount that we have left to spend on special projects, we’re often able to fund more than one project. Last year, we were able to fund three out of five projects! See below for the status of those projects.
I voted in last year’s Participatory Budget. How come [project I voted for] hasn’t been installed yet?
Once a project is chosen by the community through the People’s Budget, the funds for that project are appropriated to the relevant departments/agencies (usually CDOT, but occasionally the Parks District or Chicago Public Schools).
Once the funds are appropriated, they enter the design and build process, which can take anywhere from months to several years, depending on the project and its complexity. Traffic signals, for instance, like the one that was funded through through the 2023 People’s Budget, tend to take several years to be installed, while sidewalk replacement, like the Western pedestrianization project that was also funded through last year’s People’s Budget, can often happen within the year.
There are also other reasons a project might be delayed, e.g. if there are asphalt plant strikes or cement shortages, as there were last year, the project might be delayed further. That said, the funds are still appropriated, and the Ward office staff monitor these project closely to ensure that they continue moving forward.
In the very rare event that a project proves not to be viable after it is funded through the People’s Budget, the funds go back to the Menu repair budget to be used for infrastructure repairs or pedestrian safety improvements.
Curious about the status of last year’s winning projects? See below:
- Western Ave Pedestrianization: this project is complete! We invite you to come check out the West Ridge Nature Park and enjoy the beautiful new sidewalks.
- Left turn signal at Foster and Damen: Authorized by the Chicago Department of Transportation, and will likely be installed next year.
- Bike Repair Stations: Currently with the Parks Department, who is determining the process for procurement and placement of the stations. These will also likely be installed next year.
I have submitted a Menu repair for several years running. Why hasn’t it been repaired yet?
There might be several reasons why a particular Menu repair hasn’t been completed. One of the most common reasons is that we did submit it for repair, but were then informed by the Department of Transportation that they’re not able to complete it because a utility company or other city department, e.g. People’s Gas or the Department of Water Management, is already planning work in that area. In cases like these, we keep a backlog of projects that were excluded from repairs because of conflicting work, and resubmit them the following year.
We also might not fund it through Menu because we know that project will be funded through alternate means, e.g. the resurfacing of Emmerson Park tennis courts, which are already being resurfaced next year through the Parks Department. This comes up frequently in regards to the resurfacing of arterial streets, e.g. Ashland Avenue. The city pays for resurfacing of these major arterial streets through their arterial resurfacing (AR) program, which means that sometimes we have to wait to make those repairs until those streets are up for AR. We have several major arterial resurfacing projects on the schedule for next year, and look forward to sharing details on those in early 2024.
Another reason we might not fund a request through Menu is that we reviewed it and determined that it should be handled outside of Menu. For example, occasionally, we receive repair requests related to sewers or sewer cave-ins, which are handled through 311, and not through Menu. In those cases, we submit a 311 request instead of requesting the repair through Menu.
Lastly, sometimes a Menu repair request isn’t chosen because, unfortunately, we don’t have the funds to fix every issue, and we have to prioritize the repairs that are most urgent, or the ones that we know that we can fix. Alley resurfacing is a good example of this. At the 40th Ward Office, we tend to limit the amount of funds we spend on traditional alley resurfacing, because in most cases, traditional asphalt resurfacing will lead to flooding, and we don’t want to allocate funds toward fixing a project when we know the fix will likely cause bigger issues. For that reason, we prioritize green alleys instead, which are done using porous materials so that water can be absorbed. Because green alleys are very expensive (about $250K per alley, at minimum), we can only fund a few of them per year. We perform ward surveys to choose the alleys that are in the worst condition, which means that other alleys which are less urgent often have to wait until a later year.
If you ever have a question about the status of a Menu repair request that you’ve submitted, you can always contact us at 40thward.org/contact.
How do I vote?
All 40th Ward residents ages 14 and up are eligible to vote! To cast your vote, fill out and submit our 2024 Participatory Budget Ballot, or visit any of our in-person ballot boxes:
- Budlong Woods Library: 5630 N. Lincoln Ave
- Northtown Library: 6800 N. Western Ave
- Warren Park Fieldhouse: 6601 N Western Ave
- Side Practice Coffee: 5139 N. Damen Ave
- 40th Ward Office: 5620 N. Western Ave.
Voting will close on December 31st, 2023, and results will be announced in early January.