published Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Chattanooga City Council OKs Mayor Andy Berke's $212 million budget

Chattanooga City Hall
Chattanooga City Hall
Meghan Brown

MAYOR'S OFFICE GOALS

Safer Streets:

• Decrease domestic violence crime rate

• Decrease violent crime rate

• Decrease the number of aggravated assaults

• Reduce the number of shootings

Smarter Students & Stronger Families:

• Increase the number of 3rd graders reading at “proficient’ level as defined by the state

• Decrease drop-out rate

• Decrease youth crime rate

• Increase college attainment

Stronger Neighborhoods:

• Increase number of Chattanoogans over the age of 16 who are employed

• Decrease blight by reducing the number of buildings in disrepair

• Improve the condition of private neighborhoods and promote new construction

• Increase connectivity within the city

Sounder Government:

• Increase the percentage of city employees trained in the areas that directly impact their work

• Reduce the city’s energy cost

• Increase citizen access to city services

• Increase the percentage of data sets available online

Chattanooga is one step closer to adding more police officers on the streets and programs to boost reading scores and clean up neighborhoods.

With a 9-0 vote Tuesday night, City Council members approved the first reading of Mayor Andy Berke’s $212 million budget. With a council OK next week, the budget will be adopted.

As part of the 2014 budget, all city employees will get a 1.5 percent raise, the city will fund a federal prosecutor to go after gang leaders and the worst drug traffickers as well as residents will face a 10 percent stormwater fee increase.

“A vote for this budget is a vote for safer streets,” Berke told the council. “We appreciate the council giving us a little extra time to present a budget we are proud of.”

In developing the budget, Berke and his top staff touted that this would be the first based on “budgeting for outcomes,” which means city funding will be tied to the performance — or outcomes — of several departments. On Aug. 7, the council was given a list of goals for projects Berke is funding with $7 million, trimmed from other departments.

But the goals for education and public safety projects mirror those already articulated by state and local education leaders and by law enforcement leaders for tackling crime.

Those goals include:

• Reduce the number of shootings.

• Decrease violent crime rate.

• Decrease dropout rate.

• Increase college attainment.

Budget documents still do not include benchmarks or specific results city officials will aim toward or how the administration will measure the success or failure of programs.

After giving the City Council a nearly four-minute speech Tuesday night on his budget, Berke left the meeting and wasn’t available afterward to answer any questions on his budget.

While Berke’s staff couldn’t give a time line for when they will present those measurable outcomes to the City Council, Chief Operating Officer Andrew Kean told the council weeks ago that it will take time to get them right.

Several council members said some “guess work” goes into figuring out what is the right amount of money to put into new programs and figuring out how to measure the success of those initiatives, so they are willing to give more leeway to currently approve the budget. Explaining this year the city is establishing the outcomes.

“We’re beginning to experiment with this whole process of budgeting for outcomes,” said City Councilman Moses Freeman. “We will be able to say how many people will get out of the drug trafficking down the road. We will be able to say how many kids we will teach to read. That will come.”

ROADS

Along with voting to pass the first reading of the budget, City Council members approved a more than $700,000 increase in road paving funds, which now will be more than $2.5 million, the highest level since 2004.

Berke’s staff cut the $700,000 from multiple departments including public works as well as funds set aside for unexpected expenses. And council members decided to take money from the city auditor’s budget that would have scrutinized the multimillion dollar contracts needed over the next several years to fix the city’s sewer woes.

The city is projected to spend $250 million in contracted expenses to fix the city’s sewer problems and comply with a federal consent decree for violating the Clean Water Act. But the city auditor’s office and audit committee found the city’s Waste Resources Division would be contracting out millions of dollars worth of projects with third parties and realized that was a high-risk area.

The audit committee recommended more scrutiny to ensure public transparency.

That’s why City Auditor Stan Sewell asked the city Finance Department to add another position to the department to focus solely on monitoring the Moccasin Bend Clean Water Authority and Waste Resources Division.

On Tuesday, Councilman Jerry Mitchell requested taking that $60,000 salary budgeted for the city auditor and adding it to roads. He explained the money could be better spent in roads and the city auditor’s office can reallocate its current staff to oversee the contracted work.

“I’m not saying they shouldn’t have oversight, but they need to find a smarter way to do it,” Mitchell said.

But at a May 9 Audit Committee meeting, Mitchell agreed the city needed to add more scrutiny to tracking millions of dollars of contract work. Meeting minutes show Mitchell attended and watched as all the committee members recommended the auditor position be added to the budget.

On Tuesday, Mitchell said by saying that the city has to have more oversight to scrutinize contractors it’s “assuming corruption.”

Other votes from city council tonight:

• City Council gives Chattanooga Fire Department greenlight to pursue a $1.9 million federal grant, which will go to hire 29 new firefighters for two years. Officials will have to renew the grant in two years or find a way to pay for the positions in the city budget.

• City Council voted to lower the speed limit by five miles on Main Street to 30 mph.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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