Chattanooga residents who want to help shape how their taxpayer dollars are spent can have hands-on input starting Monday.
Mayor Andy Berke is inviting people to join in the earliest planning for the 2018-19 city budget that will take effect July 1, 2018.
It's part of Berke's Budgeting for Outcomes process, which aims to learn more about how Chattanoogans want their city to work and then focusing spending in those areas.
"The main part is, we want to hear from people about their priorities," Berke said in an interview Thursday. "Budgeting for Outcomes is all about making sure we're getting the outcome that we want, but it's also about communication among many different constituencies to make sure we're using taxpayer funds in the area people are most excited about."
The citizens' input will be part of the process as Berke and his staff develop the coming year budget, he said.
IF YOU GO
What: Citizen budget input session
› Monday: 5-6:30 p.m. at the Kingdom Center, 730 M.L. King Blvd.
› Nov. 27: 5-6:30 p.m. at the Hixson YFD, 5400 School Drive
› Nov. 30: 5-6:30 p.m. at the Family Justice Center, 5705 Uptain Road
Berke adopted the process when was elected mayor in 2013, but this is the first time this level of public participation has been included, he said.
"When I go to neighborhood meetings, people always ask about how we make funding decisions, why we do what we do," he said. Now, they can find out and be a part of the decision-making.
Asked for an example of aligning spending with priorities, Berke said city residents wanted more focus on early learning. In response, he said, the city put up $100,000 and partnered with United Way to help low-income families help pay for high-quality early childhood learning.
Budgeting for Outcomes requires city departments to make the case for spending on specific programs, with metrics that are used to judge whether they achieve their desired goals in five categories: growing economy, high-performing government, safer streets, smarter students and stronger families, and stronger neighborhoods.
For instance, a proposal — they're called "offers" — in the 2016 budget sought just over $1 million to run an after-school and summer meal program at the city's Youth and Family Development centers. Students would have to enroll in an academic or enrichment program at the center to qualify for the free meals.
Another offer in the safer streets category asked for more than $145,000 to help develop a program to regularly sweep 296 miles of bicycle lanes to improve cyclist safety. In the same category was a $50,000 request to hire trained and certified therapists at the Children's Advocacy Center to help 100 children affected by child abuse.
It's not clear whether those programs were funded. The city website reflects "offers" for 2015 and 2016, but not this year. The mayor's office was unable to provide any examples of how prior-year projects were measured and judged for effectiveness.
Berke said all nonprofits hoping to receive city money have to go through the process, and it's been helpful for them as well as the city.
"City government can't do everything, we shouldn't do everything, but at the same time we don't want a scattershot approach," he said. "So community organizations must partner with government departments, make sure they're not duplicating services and get more out of taxpayer dollars. We have nonprofits doing what they do best but making sure they focus on areas we've heard Chattanoogans think are important."
He cited a partnership between the city's Multicultural Affairs Department and La Paz Chattanooga, which serves local Latino residents, to open the city's first family resource center for Hispanics.
"It's a great opportunity for us, with a growing [Latino] population, we want them to be accessing services they need, and La Paz is one of the most credible organizations."
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416.