published Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Chattanooga City Council OKs Mayor Andy Berke's $216 million budget

City Council gave Mayor Andy Berke's $216 million budget their first stamp of approval after the city added money to pave 56 more miles of city roads.

After back-and-forth-debate the mayor's office added $400,000 to Chattanooga's road paving budget bumping the total to $3 million -- nearly double what the city allocated in 2013.

City Council voted 8-1 to approve the first reading of the budget that also includes $250,000 for a city-led baby college, maintains funding for 486 sworn police officers and adds a bus route to Enterprise South industrial park.

City Councilman Larry Grohn voted against the budget because he said there were too many new programs that didn't have details. He also pointed out that the first budget to entirely follow budgeting for outcomes principals still doesn't include performance benchmarks to track the success of the programs -- a key to this type of budget.

The mayor's office has said it will roll out a database this fall that tracks departments and agencies that partner with the city.

Berke's budget includes a 1.5 percent pay increase for nonsworn employees. But a week ago, dozens of city employees, who are local union members, swarmed City Hall to ask for a fair wage that addressed pay disparity.

While the mayor's office and City Council agreed the claims of unequal pay need to be studied, officials didn't include more funding in this budget. Several City Council members pledged to study the issue this year and have a plan ready to roll out by the next fiscal budget.

"Just to give somebody an across-the-board raise compounds the problem and we have not taken the time to really see where equity is best met. I and my colleagues are very much committed to that -- starting to look at the inequity," said Councilwoman Carol Berz to the workers in the audience. "That's not an idle comment."

Steve West, a city worker union member, said that wasn't good enough.

"We don't feel like we're a part of the team right now," he said, as more than a dozen audience members applauded.

Before approving the budget, the City Council made another amendment to add nearly $20,000 to their own fund.

Several council members complained when they saw this year that their own budget to host events or public forums in their district was cut. Councilman Chip Henderson agreed to add back money for their budget to total $708,000. That's an overall 1.4 percent decrease from last year.

To offset the cost for the road paving budget, the city cut the building maintenance budget, money for minor repairs in Public Works equipment along with funding for Heritage Park and the Heritage House programs.

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

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

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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