published Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Berke’s budget leaves a lot to be desired: Proposed city budget fails to wow

  • photo
    Mayor Andy Berke speaks during a news conference Monday in City Hall.
    Photo by Shawn Paik.
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One of Andy Berke’s first orders of business after he was sworn in as Chattanooga mayor was to plead with the City Council to allow him to turn in the city’s proposed 2013-14 fiscal year budget up to three months late. Berke reasoned that because of the massive overhauls he planned for city government, the delay in presenting the budget was necessary — and it would be worth the wait.

But it wasn’t.

Rather than transforming city government by cutting spending, slashing taxes and dramatically overhauling antiquated departments, Berke colored within the lines.

For a man who promised to “Renew Chattanooga” during his campaign, Berke’s ideas in his first budget are largely feeble and bland. In fact, Berke’s only proposal that isn’t safe is his dodgy decision to spend every single dime of the $212.5 million the city projects to collect in revenue.

Under the mayor’s proposed budget, if revenue projections fall short, the city will be mired in a deficit — and Berke will have to shoulder the blame.

Berke’s proposed budget makes sure to take care of those closest to him first. While city employees are slated to receive a 1.5 percent pay increase, the mayor has chosen to hike the amount earmarked for administrative salaries in his office from $992,632 to about $1.4 million — an increase of 38 percent.

Berke also continues the city’s offensive tradition of taking money from taxpayers to support nonprofits favored by government elite.

The mayor’s budget proposes to increase city taxpayer subsidies to Allied Arts Council by $48,528, resulting in a hefty grand total of $275,000. Berke also pledges to pour $1.1 million into the Tennessee Riverpark, a walking and biking trail, and balloon funding to the Enterprise South Nature Park from $682,000 to nearly $706,000.

Strangely, at the same time Berke is busy promising heaps of tax dollars to the nonprofits and recreational venues utilized most often by Chattanooga’s more-affluent residents (like him), the mayor has chosen to eliminate funding for homeless services. It seems Berke is comfortable being known as the type of politician who panders to the wealthy and well-born at the expense of the least fortunate among us.

Among the few bright spots in Berke’s budget is his proposal to remove the city’s $67,500 annual handout to the River City Company. The nonprofit, which serves as Chattanooga’s de facto downtown redevelopment agency, has failed taxpayers by devouring city and county dollars while actually working to prevent promising businesses from setting up shop downtown. River City’s longstanding opposition to allowing chain restaurants and franchised businesses the opportunity to lease prime downtown commercial properties has stalled Chattanooga’s redevelopment and restricted consumer choice.

Despite calls by many members of the Chattanooga City Council to lease or sell the city’s money-hemorrhaging performance venues, Berke decided to follow in the steps of his not-so-successful predecessor, Ron Littlefield, and waste tax dollars on bailing out the Memorial Auditorium and the Tivoli Theatre. Subsidizing the venues will cost Chattanoogans $820,000 next fiscal year if Berke’s budget is approved.

One of the aspects of the budget proposal Berke seems most proud of is his plan to add 40 additional police officers — an expense that, some would argue, is unnecessary. While the move may make Berke appear tough on crime, the reality is, since violent crime has fallen dramatically in Chattanooga in recent years, the money may be better spent elsewhere.

The mayor also seems quite enamored with his proposed property tax cut, which he made sure to tout in the budget summary the administration presented to the media. That property tax cut is actually a reduction of just 0.17 percent — just a fraction more than diddly-squat.

While Berke’s recommended budget could be worse, it could also be much, much better. For a mayor who has styled himself as a reformer and a visionary, his proposals look frustratingly stale.

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aae1049 said...

Increasing the amount of our property tax dollars to Allied Arts, who has a 6 figure CEO and monumental waste. Berke is just Littlefield Phase II>

August 1, 2013 at 12:27 a.m.
cooljb said...

The people were warned. A chance for real change wasted. Elections matter, they really matter.

August 1, 2013 at 7:02 a.m.
soakya said...

Let's see if I have this right. Berke want's to buy the Tubman building for 1 million even though it has current offers "inquires" up to 4 million. Tear it down and redevelop the area. What a break for Berke's father and uncle who just so happen to own property to the north. Why would the CHA even consider a 1 million offer when they had a 4 million "inquire" on the table. Oh yeah, for the jobs. I guess those 11,000 "new" jobs created by VW wasn't enough. I guess the 4 million dollar offer wouldn't create any jobs. I wonder what will happen to Berke's father and uncle's property value. Chattanooga you were warned.

August 1, 2013 at 9:06 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

So Johnson is out, but Bennett and Sohn's daily dividing continues.

August 1, 2013 at 12:55 p.m.
Walden said...

Hey TFP - now go out and hire a real conservative please! Oh, and someone who has been in possession of all of their permanent teeth for at least 40 years. Thanks

August 1, 2013 at 3:02 p.m.

So the TFP could no longer handle the truth?

Sad to see Drew Johnson was fired for being brave and bold. The TFP needs to hire an ordained minister to satisfy it's Bible thumpering readers.

August 1, 2013 at 3:09 p.m.
Dumbledore403 said...

Bookie- He was fired hopefully for employing bullying tactics in his editorials one too many times. Hey Free Press: Once was enough

August 1, 2013 at 3:15 p.m.
Stewwie said...

When conservatives complain about the "conservative" editor, you know there's a problem. Major props to the TFP for finally taking out the trash and getting rid of Johnson. Now, as Walden said, time to find a real conservative for page B7.

And while the TFP is at it, time to dump Bennett as well. How have his cartoons on Bob Moon, George W. Bush, and Margaret Thatcher not been worthy of a firing? So much for journalistic standards. The man is twisted and sick.

August 1, 2013 at 3:16 p.m.
librul said...

Sniff, sniff, Bye Bye, Drew; sniff, sniff.

Dang, is the ragweed blooming early?

August 1, 2013 at 10:32 p.m.
fairmon said...

We will now see if this city counsel is a rubber stamp for the mayor? The contributions to favored non-profits and recreational venues should be viewed critically. It is time to privatize memorial auditorium and the Tivoli. Hunter museum can manage without tax payers support. It is time for the city to divest businesses that compete with privately owned businesses such as golf courses, drug stores, marinas, hotels and restaurants and other city owned entities that do not pay property taxes and other revenue generating fees. Adding to the police force is good if the addition also includes good training of all police and fire personnel. Nothing is mentioned about unfunded future liabilities and a "rainy day" fund.

August 2, 2013 at 6:17 a.m.
TheCommander said...

Right on fairmon. Berke will use tax increment financing to build mixed use developments all over Chatt. Redevelopment!! is his war cry. PILOT programs will increase as well. Don't forget about that aquarium. Has anyone looked at the red ink in the audits for that thing? I have. They are online and worth a look. My prediction: Chattanooga will be bailing it out within a couple of years. Typical of these projects between private foundations and government: They always start off good but end up drowning a city in debt. Oakland, Stockton, Birmingham are some excellent examples.

August 3, 2013 at 8:21 p.m.
fairmon said...

The mayor can only chase rabbits if the city counsel allows it. I hope the right people were selected to replace the relics that had their heads nodding yes to the mayor before they were ask.

August 3, 2013 at 9:19 p.m.
nucanuck said...

Maybe Drew was more Libertarian than Tea Bag Conservative. Hopefully the next one will be a clear thinker. I would like to see the conservative cause well presented if for no other reason than to create an honest dialogue.

August 6, 2013 at 2:35 a.m.
jjmez said...

nucanuck, I agree. Tea Bagger Conservatives went too far right off the chart with their hate and bigotry to be taken seriously. They even frighten away a helluva lot of their own would be supporters.

As for Mayor Berke at some point, or some future mayor, will have to be strong enough to withstand these assaults against them, using the platform of tax dollars to justify their rants. He or a future mayor will have to tell'em all to &^%$OFF! And if they don't like the way things are done to pack up and go somewhere else, taking their beloved and obsessed with tax dollars with them.

I didn't necessarily agree with all the prior mayor and his staff may have done, but their actions did keep Chattanooga from going under like so many cities around the nation with similar population size did. Mayor Littlefield also prevent a lot of unjust things from happening to the poor in the city. Like when there was a homeless camp discovered on the southside under a bridge on broad street. The suburbanites who'd returned to the city after decades of white flight wanted to use the resources and powers of the police to gather them up and run them of. Mayor Littlefield warned them "Don't touch them!" Some of the same individuals who openly spoke of wanting the poor and homeless run out of town or rounded up and dumped across stateliness are some of the same ones screaming about their tax-dollars. Although, they're the ones who have benefitted most from the city's collecting and using those same tax dollars.

August 6, 2013 at 10:47 a.m.
fairmon said...

jjmez said..

I didn't necessarily agree with all the prior mayor and his staff may have done, but their actions did keep Chattanooga from going under like so many cities around the nation with similar population size did.

Are you sure? Do you know the unfunded future liability the city has? Who and how and when will that be paid?

I agree with the former mayors position regarding that particular homeless issue but not with the mayor and councils handling in general of the homeless. I donate and encourage everyone to help the community kitchen grow and do more of what they do better than any government entity will ever do.

August 6, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.
jjmez said...

fairmon said... I agree with the former mayors position regarding that particular homeless issue but not with the mayor and councils handling in general of the homeless. I donate and encourage everyone to help the community kitchen grow

"Helping the community kitchen grow" was never a part of the plan of the upper-snobbers returning to the city after decades of white flight. The plans actually were to shut down such shelters as the Community Kitchen, all public housing, round up all poor and low income dwellers, along with the homeless, use police resources (the same way they did when gentrifying (oops! "revitalizing") downtown Chattanooga, then "dump them all across stateline." Bloodied, bruised, beaten...it didn't matter. Out of sight out of mind, was their goal.

August 6, 2013 at 3:08 p.m.
fairmon said...

jjmez said.....

"Helping the community kitchen grow" was never a part of the plan of the upper-snobbers returning to the city after decades of white flight. The plans actually were to shut down such shelters as the Community Kitchen.

Screw them, they should be the dumpees.

August 6, 2013 at 7:48 p.m.
TheCommander said...

Someone has to define what it means to "go under". I assumed it is a description of an entities ability to pay their debts. Under Littlefield Chattanooga debt grew by $100,000,000 (in 5 years!). I don't see how that keeps us from going under. I think it pushes us toward going under.

Also, please explain to me the correlation between being concerned about the use of tax dollars and wanting to drive the homeless out from under bridges? I think this is slanderous and a silly, uninformed and inaccurate generalization. I thought it was good citizenship to continually watch and demonstrate concern over the financial condition of the city or county you live in.

August 14, 2013 at 10:33 a.m.
Jull said...

It does not surprise me any more that the politicians are concerned about themselves in th efirst term and those, who are closer to them. Ordinary people should take care of themselves, if you have temporary financial difficulties, nowadays you can always solve them with online services. Find more info here.

October 23, 2013 at 11:45 a.m.
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