published Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Chattanooga City Council wants details of Mayor Andy Berke’s proposed $212 million budget

Chattanooga City Hall
Chattanooga City Hall
Meghan Brown

City Council members did not get the answers they wanted Tuesday as they dissected Mayor Andy Berke’s proposed $212 million budget, and they wanted to know why the mayor didn’t show how he will track the success or failure of new government programs as he promised.

At a four-hour budget work session, several council members asked Berke’s staff to justify spending millions on the mayor’s new programs without a key component of the mayor’s new approach to budgeting — measurable outcomes.

“If we’re considering the budget in a budgeting-for-outcomes scenario, what are the outcomes we’re measuring the budget against?” asked Councilwoman Carol Berz, chairwoman of the Budget and Finance Committee.

Andrew Kean, Berke’s chief operating officer, told the council that staff are still working out all of the variables needed to measure the performance of government services or programs.

That’s when Councilman Chip Henderson sat up in his chair and interrupted Kean.

“Working on it?” he asked, pointing at Kean. “Shouldn’t you already have those in place?”

Henderson said the council needs to see “what the outcomes are.”

Last week, Berke presented his budget with a plan to curb crime by adding 40 police officers and funding a federal prosecutor to target drug kingpins and violent offenders, along with projects to improve neighborhoods and foster job growth.

Berke proposed funneling $7 million trimmed from other departments to pay for projects in four key areas from public safety to job growth.

The mayor has called this year’s budget a pilot for the “budgeting for outcomes” approach he says will make government more effective and efficient. This year the administration picked the key operating departments to begin using this type of budgeting. He has said that by next year every department’s budget will be developed based on an outcomes model.

Budgeting for outcomes, a strategy many businesses use, has been embraced by some state and city governments across the country. The idea behind this type of budgeting is to prioritize funding and create ways for governments to evaluate whether the money is being used effectively.

Several council members asked why those outcomes — the specific things city departments will be measured against — were not in the budget document. That information is necessary, council members said, as they consider funding new programs and eliminating money from other departments.

Kean didn’t give the council members a clear answer on whether they would get to see those outcomes before approving the 2014 budget.

Council members also questioned where the money was coming from within the budget to pay for the mayor’s initiatives, and they asked for a clearer road map to make sure important services aren’t being eliminated.

“We want to track where the funds are going and why they are popping up as very large increases or decreases,” Councilman Larry Grohn said to Berke’s staff.

“How did you reorganize. How did you make these cuts?” Councilman Moses Freeman asked. “That’s what we need to ask for first.”

Berke’s staff will send answers to the council this week. Council members will meet next Tuesday to hash out more details, including the proposed capital budget.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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