Chattanooga City Council members questioned the gang task force, police and fire pension board, and social service agency budgets on Tuesday.
The proposed $209 million city budget, released earlier this month by Mayor Ron Littlefield, includes $499,878 for a gang task force created during this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
City Council members are dissecting the mayor's 2013 budget. About 44 percent of the budget goes to the police and fire departments while 26 percent is allocated to general government agencies and 22.4 percent is set aside for Public Works and Parks and Recreation. Council members are expected to spend the next several weeks poring over the budget, which must be approved by July 1.
Littlefield's chief of staff, Dan Johnson, and task force coordinator Boyd Patterson explained the request, which allocates $50,000 for consulting fees, $45,000 for meetings and $13,515 for travel.
"You've got big items like consulting fees and meeting expenses," Johnson said. "There's going to be an awful lot of meeting going on."
Patterson said task force members would travel to cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago to study anti-gang models that are working now.
Councilman Andraé McGary asked Patterson how he determined the priorities without the results of a $75,000 gang study the council approved.
"The assessment is going to guide how we act as a city for several years," Patterson said. "A lot of what we're going to do is pull from other cities, other communities."
With funding, Patterson said, he already would be engaging youth and business leaders in a vocational education program.
"I'd be out there trying to get the electricians, the carpenters and the plumbers to get kids right now in a position where they earn while they learn," Patterson said.
Councilwoman Deborah Scott asked whether Patterson would be relying solely on police statistics in measuring the task force's success.
He said they'll look more broadly at other criteria, possibly including a YMCA rubric of 40 criteria that are indicative of a child's chances at success and how they are improving those.
The task force has applied for three separate federal grants, each worth up to $1.5 million for the federal fiscal year 2013, which begins Oct. 1. The task force already has received a $20,000 grant that's being applied to overtime for police officers updating the gang database, among other things, Patterson said.
In addition to the gang task force budget, council members had questions about an additional $1.6 million increase to the police and fire pension fund.
Councilman Jack Benson questioned the fund's rate of return.
"Are we getting better advice for the general pension fund?" he asked.
Fund Administrator Frank Hamilton explained that this year's additional funding is a direct result of decisions made during the recession to keep contributions lower in the first part of the economic downturn.
"The decision was made to keep contributions lower to keep the pressure off the budget at that time," he said. "Those were policies taken by the city to ease the pressure of 2009."
Those additional costs forced City Finance Officer Daisy Madison to trim various budgets, including social service agencies. The council asked United Way to recommend funding amounts for organizations that applied for city support. The organization did so based on $873,000 in available funding. Last week, Madison predicted that amount would be more like $700,000.
When Budget Committee Chairwoman Carol Berz asked council members whether they want to revisit the individual funding requests, Peter Murphy signaled he wanted to.
Councilman Manny Rico strongly opposed that.
"You take the politics out by letting [the United Way] do their job," Rico said. "I've already been lobbied by an agency."
No firm decision was made, and several agencies will be interviewed next Tuesday between 10 a.m. and noon when the council reconvenes its budget talks.