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Evanston’s Participatory Budgeting Committee is moving forward on a resident-led steering committee to develop a hands-on funding system. At its meeting Thursday afternoon, the committee approved a timeline and structure.

City staff plan to open committee applications Friday for residents to develop and oversee a system to allocate approximately $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to local projects – ones imagined, developed, pitched and voted on by Evanston residents. The practice was first developed in Brazil in 1989 and introduced to the U.S. in 2009 by former Ald. Joe Moore in Chicago.

Residents will be joined by City Council members from the committee, and city staff will attend meetings to provide technical assistance. Committee chair and Council member Devon Reid (Eighth Ward) said the Council members who join the steering committee do not need to commit long-term.

“Once we’re educating residents and everyone else on what their responsibility will be, I think folks will kind of self-select,” Reid said. “But I think we can leave the door open for now.”

The committee, first formed in December 2021, is made up of Reid, Council members Bobby Burns (Fifth Ward) and Jonathan Nieuwsma (Fourth Ward) and Mayor Daniel Biss. On June 27 City Council approved an agreement with PB Evanston, a group of researchers and volunteers based out of Northwestern University, to help design and facilitate the process from beginning to end.

PB Evanston director and Northwestern Prof. Matt Easterday told the committee Thursday that initial outreach for steering applicants has been mixed so far, but that he isn’t too discouraged by this.

“Already when we’ve been reaching out to stakeholders, we get that, ‘Well, I’m kind of busy, it’s a really cool project,’” Easterday said. “So I think I’m nervous on the ‘getting people to sign up’ side, though it’s Evanston so it could go the other way, maybe we’ll have a flood of applicants who want to do this work.”

The steering committee’s first task will be to develop a rulebook for the city to follow throughout the participatory budgeting process. This will include specific goals and progress metrics, voter eligibility, proposal criteria and a full timeline. After the steering committee approves a draft, it will go to City Council for final approval.

The timeline calls for steering committee members to be appointed on Sept. 1 with final approval from City Council on Sept. 12. Easterday said meeting these dates would help bring Evanston closer to PB Evanston’s recommended timeline, which he said the city is currently “about two or three months behind.”

A town hall meeting on the steering committee application process is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 4, with further details to be announced soon.

Alex Harrison

Alex Harrison joins the RoundTable for the summer in between his undergraduate and graduate studies at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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