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Members of the Chattanooga City Council are calling for better infrastructure budgeting in light of concerns from citizens about paving.

During a Public Works and Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday, several council members pushed for a better system and higher budget for paving roads, citing a recent community survey that indicated roads are the city's No. 1 concern.

"I'm going to ask that we begin working with the mayor's office right now to once and for all — seeing as how some of us have one more crack at this with next year's budget — get some real money in the budget for paving," Committee Chairman and District 2 Councilman Jerry Mitchell said. "I'm going to ask the council that we really begin focusing on that part of the budget right now."

The feedback Mitchell referenced comes from more than 2,000 citizens who participated in a survey by the city's office of internal audits. The survey results were released Monday, showing that paving is the No. 1 concern in each of the city's nine districts, with 65% of respondents rating smoothness of streets as "very bad," and 50% of participants indicating street paving was more important to them than other safety and quality-of-life categories.

Mitchell, whose district tied for the most satisfied overall, asked Chattanooga Department of Transportation Administrator Blythe Bailey to streamline his department's process to make the best of "paving weather" and asked his fellow council members to consider increasing pavement funding throughout the budget process.

His questions were echoed by many colleagues.

"I want to applaud you for bringing this subject up because when you look at the district summaries, districts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, they all read the same," District 4 Councilman Darrin Ledford, whose district tied with Mitchell's for most satisfied, said. "I don't know a more unified front on something that we need to consider on the next budget. We need to open that can of worms right now."

Bailey told the council members that the transportation department is engaging a paving consultant to help form a more efficient paving structure, but wavered on whether such a plan would be ready by the time the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which will be voted on in June, is complete.

Budget and Finance Committee chairwoman and District 6 Councilwoman Carol Berz said the council needs to be more involved in the budgeting process to ensure change is made.

"Budgeting for outcomes has got to be based on what outcomes you want. And so if we don't have a plan to know what outcomes we want, what do we budget for?" Berz asked. "The city operates on a budget that [council] approves, and we are not potted plants. What it is that, across the board, the city needs is checks and balances. Every year, [the council] seems surprised that we haven't done our work to balance administrative stuff Council has every right, and we should be putting forth what we think should be in the budget. Not telling folks how to ask, but telling them what outcomes we are looking for, and we have yet to do that."

While he says coming up with a figure before the consultant has come up with a plan is "awkward," Mitchell said he knows the city needs $6-10 million for paving in the 2021 budget.

District 3 Councilman Ken Smith called for Mitchell, as chair, to set a meeting for the committee to discuss a plan to optimize paving.

"We've been having these conversations for years up here, and I will give [Bailey] and his team a significant amount of credit in that it used to take over a year to get a road paved after a budget has passed, and they have done a tremendous job of shortening that," Smith said. "I would like to see an actual meeting for us to discuss this, though."

Sarah Grace Taylor can be reached at 423-757-6416 or staylor@timesfreepress.com or on Twitter @_SarahGTaylor.

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