Berke's budget is promising: New emphasis on public safety

Berke's budget is promising: New emphasis on public safety

August 1st, 2013 in Opinion Times

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke

Photo by C.B. Schmelter /Times Free Press.

From the looks of Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's proposed 2014 budget, Chattanoogans should be getting more bang for their bucks in the coming year.

Without raising property taxes, the city will add 40 new police officers to bring the police force to a record high of 486 and give a citywide pay raise of 1.5 percent to city workers.

With some creative thinking - and budgeting - the city's $212 million operating budget also will fund a full-time federal prosecutor to put away bad guys.

There's also a plan to buy the 35-acre vacant Harriet Tubman housing development from the Chattanooga Housing Authority property and turn it into an industrial park to bring more jobs to East Chattanooga - an area long impoverished.

Mayor Berke found $7 million to apply to his priorities, including beefing up the police force to provide better public safety, a pledge he made in his campaign.

To free that money, Berke's budget cuts funding to several local agencies, including $75,000 to the Chattanooga Homeless Coalition, which had been under a microscope in recent months after questions arose over claims of mishandled funds.

River City Co., too, lost funding - $67,500, by not seeking city funds this year. But the biggest windfall came from not allocating $3.8 million to the city's contingency fund. Still, the budget indicates the city has a good rainy-day fund, proportionally more than the other big cities in Tennessee.

The budget also is "investing heavily in youth and family development programs" by implementing a job training program to develop paid internships and mentorships for young people and by creating a Youth and Family Development Department. That department will turn recreation centers into "true" youth and family development centers focused on character development, education, literacy and leadership skills.

The city also will pilot a project to encourage private industry to turn vacant unproductive city lots into affordable housing by leveraging access to federal dollars.

Meanwhile, the mayor's office has cut 14 percent from its own budget.

Berke calls it "budgeting for outcomes" - analyzing city trends and needs rather than just using last year's budget and adding 2 or 3 percent to it.

We call it smart, creative and a welcome change.