City of Chattanooga budget clears first reading, contains no tax increase

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / The Chattanooga City Council meets March 15, 2022, and confirmed Celeste Murphy as police chief.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / The Chattanooga City Council meets March 15, 2022, and confirmed Celeste Murphy as police chief.

Affordable housing, salaries and public safety are key pillars of a $350 million 2022-23 operating budget the Chattanooga City Council will consider for final approval Tuesday.

The funding plan, which covers the fiscal year from July 1, 2022, to June 31, 2023, does not contain an increase to the city's property tax rate, which will remain at $2.25 per $100 of assessed valuation.

"That's huge," council Chairman Darrin Ledford, of East Brainerd, said during a strategic planning meeting Tuesday. "In today's economy, that's huge to accomplish a lot of the goals we have set out while looking forward to the future and addressing other concerns."

Council members gave initial approval to the budget Tuesday.

Built around Mayor Tim Kelly's "One Chattanooga" plan, the 2023 budget includes $33 million in seed money for a larger $100 million affordable housing initiative.

"We're already actively working with philanthropy, private sector, nonprofits, homebuilders, banks – anyone that we can get on board to help assemble additional funds to get to that $100 million," Chief Financial Officer Brent Goldberg told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Tuesday.

Goldberg said the city will invest that funding in programs like direct subsidies to homebuilders, gap financing and down payment assistance for new homeowners.

In fiscal year 2023, city staff will receive a 3% pay increase, which will build on a $30 million investment leaders made in employee pay in 2021-22.

Goldberg said the city faced significant staffing challenges before fiscal year 2022, especially with the Police and Fire departments.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga police chief: Malfunctioning camera not stalling McCallie Avenue shooting investigation)

"We were unable to recruit," Goldberg said. "We couldn't even recruit full academies. We were losing people at a rate faster than we've ever lost them."

Last year, the city boosted pay for police and firefighters by 24%, saying that brought them up to par compared to other cities.

"That helped tremendously," Goldberg said. "I mean, it stopped the bleeding. We saw retention get better. Recruiting has gotten better. We have more applications than we did previously, so that has helped tremendously for first responders."

The 3% raise planned for fiscal year 2023 will help Chattanooga remain competitive in the existing job market, Goldberg said.

Public safety makes up a healthy chunk of the city's 2023 budget, representing 41.5% of operating expenses. A total of $85.4 million will go to police and almost $60 million to the Fire Department.

The budget also includes more than $7 million for a new law enforcement training center that would be used by regional agencies. Officials are acquiring land for that facility, Goldberg said. The city will use an additional $6 million to replace fire trucks nearing the end of their life.

Including funds from the capital budget, more than $130 million will cover infrastructure needs like road construction and sewer repairs.

"That's one of the challenges we have is that we have a lot of deteriorating infrastructure throughout the city," Goldberg said.

The budget sets aside $10 million for paving. The investment is part of a four-year, $40 million commitment for roads.

It also reserves funding for a new executive director of community safety and gun violence prevention, which Goldberg said was planned months ago but has become more timely in light of recent shootings.

According to a job posting on the city website, that position will help shape the Kelly administration's long-term strategy to reduce violent crime in neighborhoods. It will have a salary in the range of $74,551 to $111,827.

Contact David Floyd at or at 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @flavid_doyd.