Chattanooga residents voiced their wish lists for the 2022-23 fiscal year budget Monday evening, covering topics ranging from infrastructure to public health.
In the first of three virtual public sessions, residents broke out into five groups with city officials and proposed initiatives to rebuild aging infrastructure, improve access to health services and housing and build up the local minority community.
"We should try figuring out how we can make [housing] equal to everyone from high to low income," said Avondale resident Jadaryn Burson. "We should try and categorize what kind of housing that most people need. Otherwise, it's going to be very long and complicated for most of us."
The Times Free Press only had immediate access to one of the five groups, and recordings of the other four were not immediately available after the meeting.
But in the one group, in addition to housing, residents spoke of ways to mitigate traffic accidents through public works projects.
"If the speed limit's too high and there are a high rate of accidents, just changing [the traffic pattern]," said Jack Flint, a resident of Highland Park.
Other residents in the group suggested bolstering sexual reproductive education in the city's schools, prioritizing local jobs over using outside companies for projects and improving access to healthy food, particularly in neighborhoods of color.
Although discussion amid residents from other groups was not immediately available, the members of Tim Kelly's administration overseeing the groups also detailed other priorities from those who spoke.
Officials made it clear that infrastructure was one of residents' top priorities, specifically making improvements to roads and sidewalks.
Important budget dates
— Public input sessions: January and February.
— Preparation of budget documents: February- April.
— Public budget presentation: May 3.
— Budget education sessions: May 10 to May 31.
— The city council’s first reading of budget ordinance: June 7.
— The city council’s second reading of budget ordinance: June 14.
— Beginning of next fiscal year: July 1.
In addition, conversations about access to grocery stores, healthy food and health services were among their biggest wishes.
Brooke Satterfield, the city's director of policy planning and implementation, said one thing her group members also expressed interest in was strengthening local food networks to support farm-to-table programs and food co-ops.
"We also had [conversations about] paying our early learning professionals more and making sure they have a living wage. We also talked about more programming for the zero to 5 age group in places like our community centers and our parks," she said.
Chris Sands, the city's director of community engagement, said his group talked about how to benefit communities of color and the need to better connect them with local resources.
"We wanted to figure out ways where we can have grocery stores in the Black community, as there are a couple food deserts where Black communities exist," Sands said. "We want to make sure we know exactly what needs there are in the community."
The conversations Monday revolved around Kelly's "One Chattanooga" plan, which details his policy goals for the city — but officials emphasized the plan is not an edict and will require more community input.
The plan includes universal early education, making the city more economically competitive in the region and closing gaps to public health services.
"This plan is not a quick fix," said Joda Thongnopnua, Kelly's chief of staff, during the meeting. "This is something that is really challenging. We know that the work is so urgent, but these challenges did not crop up overnight."
Monday's discussions largely surrounded the operating budget, which does not include funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package passed by Democrats in Congress and signed by President Joe Biden last March.
Those funds will be discussed separately through public outreach events conducted by the Chattanooga Equitable Recovery Commission, officials said.
The city will hold its next public input meeting via Zoom from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Jan. 31.
The final meeting will be Feb. 10 via Zoom during the same time frame.
Those interested in attending the meetings are required to register by filling out a form that can be found at bit.ly/chatbudgetform.
Contact Logan Hullinger at email@example.com or 814-319-5158. Follow him on Twitter @LoganHullinger.