Budget revealed: Almost half of Chattanooga spending set to go to public safety programs

Budget revealed: Almost half of Chattanooga spending set to go to public safety programs

May 28th, 2014 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Chattanooga Deputy COO Brent Goldberg, left, presents the fiscal year 2015 city budget on Tuesday at the City Council building.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

SPENDING PRIORITIES

Safer streets

• $101 million - 47 percent

Stronger neighborhoods

• $45.2 million - 21 percent

Smart students

• $24.3 million - 11 percent

Growing economy

• $23.5 million - 11 percent

High-performing government

• $22.7 million - 10 percent

POLL: Is the city correct to boost public safety spending?

Highlights of Chattanooga's proposed fiscal year 2015 operating budget.

Document: Budget news release

Budget news release

Document: Fiscal Year 2015 budget

Fiscal year 2015 proposed Chattanooga budget

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's staff unveiled a $216.8 million budget for next year that funnels nearly half of the city's operating funds to curb violent crime and increase public safety while bolstering the mayor's other key priorities for the Scenic City.

City Council members were given a summary of the budget Tuesday afternoon; the full budget is expected to be released today. Some officials hinted at department and agency cuts to offset spending on new priorities or strategies, such as a Baby College for expectant parents and a new economic development office at City Hall.

This budget demonstrates for the first time a citywide, budgeting-for-outcomes approach that focuses on performance and doesn't give departments status-quo funding requests, said Brent Goldberg, Berke's deputy chief operating officer. There are shifts in department funding, but some of those shifts are related to shifts in departmental responsibilities.

Several City Council members questioned the lack of details in what Goldberg released Tuesday. They said they had expected to see specific performance indicators to measure the success or failure of the programs, a key part of budgeting for outcomes.

"I'm not getting too excited right now at what I perceive as changes," council Chairman Chip Henderson said. "We need the book so we can get some details."

Berke explained the data that will be measured won't be available until this fall when the city releases an online database called Chattadata that will track the city's goals, such as a decrease in shootings and violent crime. The data takes time to collect and in some key target areas it isn't accurate, he said. But Berke stressed that the goal is to be transparent and to get the data online for the public to see whether the city is meeting its goals.

"This budgeting-for-outcomes process helps us communicate how we're doing in a systematic way," Berke said. "They don't have to come to a speech at a downtown event to hear me rattle off statistics ... they can actually get online to see this for themselves."

The city hasn't released measurable outcomes from last year's budget that allocated $7 million for a pilot budgeting-for-outcomes process. City officials said one reason for the delay is some of the programs have taken nearly a year to get started.

The Berke administration officials said they made decisions for the proposed 2015 budget by taking departmental and agency requests to a five-member team for each of the five key areas that the city will focus on in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1. Each request for funding had to fit into one of the priority areas: safer streets, stronger neighborhoods, smarter students, growing economy or high-performing government, and had to have measurable goals.

Under public safety, the mayor's office wants to funnel $101 million, which includes police and fire department operations, as well as expanding programs such as a new ex-offender job training program as part of Chattanooga's Violence Reduction Initiative.

The $5.5 million saved through the fire and police pension overhaul was invested into public safety initiatives, to fix the police pay structure for $950,000, to buy new breathing equipment for firefighters, and to replace old public safety vehicles.

The budget won't include an increase in the number of sworn officers. Instead the mayor's office asks to maintain the current number of positions available at 486. The city now has 444 sworn officers on the payroll with a new police academy scheduled for next month.

Several City Council members said they are disappointed the road paving budget wasn't increased. Instead the amount budgeted fell about $200,000 compared to last year's $2.5 million that Berke boosted at the City Council's request.

Other newly created programs include an increase in curbside recycling, an added bus route to the Enterprise South industrial park and $100,000 to grow small business. The new veterans homelessness initiative was allocated about $125,000 to focus on helping veterans find permanent housing.

Berke said overall his budget reflects community priorities.

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