Chattanooga City Council looks for metrics in budget talks

Chattanooga City Council looks for metrics in budget talks

May 23rd, 2018 by Judy Walton in Local Regional News

Rachel Galorath and her son Jackson Prouse leave the office of the Hamilton Inn, where Galorath lives and works, on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Galorath and Jackson have been enrolled in the city's Baby University program for almost two years.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Chattanooga City Council members on their first day of budget presentations for the upcoming year made it clear they're interested in results.

Council members held the first of four planned sessions Tuesday on Mayor Andy Berke's spending plans in the $260 million-plus budget. Berke has said he wants to boost families and neighborhoods with investments in affordable housing, early learning, public safety and infrastructure in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Berke's broad outline includes 1,000 new high-quality early learning slots and other investments in children and families through Baby University; a new program to protect neighborhood affordability and more funding to battle homelessness, and a variety of economic development and jobs projects.

The proposed general fund budget is nearly 3.4 percent above the current year and maintains the property tax rate of $2.227 per $100 of assessed value.

As department heads and city officials went over budgets for the mayor and council and city departments including finance, purchasing, the 311 Call Center and Baby University, council members asked over and over for information on outputs as well as inputs.

How does the council know the programs it funds are delivering services as they should, Councilwoman Carol Berz asked.

"Across the board, I've heard my colleagues ask for outcomes reports and we're not able to get them," Berz said.

Councilman Anthony Byrd said constituents question him all the time about how this or that program is functioning but "we don't have the outcomes to prove they are doing the work. That becomes a major problem for us as a council."

Councilman Russell Gilbert asked whether the administration has staged random inspections of contract agencies to check their performance. He wanted to know what metrics are used to gauge agencies' and departments' effectiveness or if any has ever had pay withheld for nonperformance.

Councilman Jerry Mitchell said contract agencies will get $21 million in the coming year to deliver services for city government.

"It's worth taking the time to figure out how to hold $21 million worth of agencies accountable," Mitchell said.

In discussions about added staff for Baby University and the city's office of early learning, Councilman Chip Henderson said there's "no program we do that gives me more heartburn than this one."

"Is there good evidence we're improving cognitive learning?" he asked early learning director Ariel Ford.

She said data for the first three years of Baby U show "pretty significant gains" for both babies and parents. She said she would get that information to the council.

Chief Operating Officer Maura Sullivan and Tim Moreland, performance management director in the administration, both said they work with departments and have monthly discussions on goals and metrics.

Sullivan said performance measurements are posted on the ChattaData website and discussed monthly with Berke. She offered to share that data with council members.

Moreland and Finance administrator Daisy Madison also said writing "pay for success" clauses into contracts was complicated by staggered funding schedules, but City Attorney Wade Hinton said he'd look into the idea.

"You've heard the saying, 'what gets measured gets managed,'" Moreland said. "We talk about it a lot because it's so important."

The council will meet from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a lunch break, for the next three weeks to review the budget. The first-reading vote is set for June 19.

Contact Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.


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