This year for the first time, Maplewood Township piloted a participatory budgeting process that allowed residents to directly vote on a selection of proposals to be funded and implemented by the town.
Community members, civic groups, school and non-profit organizations were invited to submit their ideas for projects that address a community need and provide a community benefit for a one-time expenditure (from the capital budget) of $50,000. A committee comprised of Township Committee members and township officials reviewed these proposals to ensure they met the established criteria.
Projects that made it into the final round ranged from creating a dog park or restoring the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, to installing a smart TV and projector at the Maplewood Community Center and bringing pickleball to town. After the voting concluded, the winning project was the creation of a neighborhood WiFi Pilot program to “bridge the digital divide with infrastructure to allow broadband access to residents who lack meaningful access to broadband internet.”
Submitted by SOMA Justice and other groups, the project will create a pilot WiFi access for homes within the area of Seth Boyden Elementary School.
“We know that [more than] 40% of families at Seth Boyden qualify for reduced or free lunches and that an estimated 15% of families in Maplewood do not have access to the internet at all,” said TC member Dean Dafis, who championed the participatory budgeting process.
The budget committee recently met with a Smart Cities technology firm, which has done similar projects in Newark and New York City, and the township’s IT vendor to begin planning.
The firm will conduct a survey to determine existing access points and potential locations for new ones, the possible radius (Dafis said the town is aiming for between 1,000-1,500 feet around the school) and the number of households that could be served by each access point. They will examine tax maps and census data to capture the households, and will work to partner with businesses and apartment buildings in the area. The group will then meet with a hardware manufacturer to determine utility, speed, and other considerations.
Dafis said they hope to begin implementing the project in early fall. Based on early assessments, it is possible the project can be completed within the $50,000 budget — but Dafis said that will be determined by the eventual scale/radius. “We could always build upon the pilot in the future.”
When the project is completed, “Maplewood will not only prove itself yet again as a progressive model of building equity in community, but it will also join the echelon of ‘Smart Cities’ improving public infrastructure and services and fueling economic mobility and development through technology, and by increasing residents’ participation in local government,” said Dafis. “I’m ecstatic about this effort, it truly represents what good government is and should be.”
Stay tuned for more information as the project progresses.