published Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

City Council to get first look at Mayor Andy Berke's budget

Chattanooga City Hall
Chattanooga City Hall
Meghan Brown

As Chattanoogans recover from an Obama hangover today, they will get their first peek at Mayor Andy Berke’s proposed 2014 budget.

City Council members are confident residents won’t see a property tax increase.

“[Tax increase] are words I have not heard related to our upcoming budget,” said Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem. “I believe the effort is to live within our means.”

Councilwoman Carol Berz, chairwoman of the Budget and Finance Committee, said what citizens will see is a budget plan that differs from that of Berke’s predecessors. The idea, she said, is that department heads must demonstrate that they are operating efficiently and effectively to justify their budget.

“If you don’t meet those expectations you shouldn’t be funded,” she told a room full of city officials last week.

Across the country, some state and local governments are embracing this budget model, known as Budgeting for Outcomes, in the face of shrinking revenues.

In May, Berke asked the council for a 90-day extension so he could develop the 2014 budget with a focus on service outcomes. A month later, he introduced his new approach to city employees.

In short, the Berke administration took a hard look at the $209 million operating budget, questioned the function of each department and challenged department heads to focus on Berke’s major initiatives: public safety, economic development, youth and family development and government accountability.

Departments such as Transportation, for example, were asked to think outside their traditional missions: How can the Transportation Department support job growth or crime reduction efforts? How can the Police Department support youth development strategies?

“Why this is exciting is because it produces better conversation, better research and really provides the tool kit as we think about providing government in an effective way,” Chief Operating Officer Andrew Kean said.

Department heads have also been charged with examining how to do more with less money, said Lurone Jennings, Department of Youth and Family Development director.

This year’s budget is considered a pilot. Only key operating departments are included now, he said.

Councilman Larry Grohn asked how the city would keep departments accountable.

Kean said the city would be responsible for oversight and would create a team to examine results from each department.

Berke’s office also took a new approach to the budget and didn’t release an earlier working copy, meaning that city council members won’t know what’s in this coming budget until today’s presentation at City Hall at 2 p.m.

Berz said normally she reviews the budget before the council presentation in May. While she said expects to see more accountability in this type of approach, she said she doesn’t expect too many surprises because there isn’t a lot of leeway in any city budget once employees salaries are paid.

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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