Berke presents 2015 budget; focus on safety - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Berke presents 2015 budget; focus on safety

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke was able to submit his Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal with no request for a property tax hike. Deputy COO Brent Goldberg gave the city council its first look on Tuesday, pointing out the administration's priorities. "With this budget, will make our streets safer, we will grow our local economy, we will make our neighborhoods stronger, we will operate a high-performing government, and we will do all of this with no tax increase," he announced from the lectern.

Over 45% of the more than $113 million requested will go to public safety; to law enforcement and to initiatives for prevention. Also included is $950,000 to fix what's called a "broken pay structure" at the Chattanooga Police Department that has left the city vulnerable to lawsuits. "This is the largest portion of it and then over the course of time we will have continue to fund the program," said Mayor Berke in an interview after the council meeting. "This fix will ensure predictability and certainty. That raises morale when people understand why  they're getting paid, what they're getting paid, and know what the future holds."

In addition to $2.3 million for street paving and maintenance in this budget, there is an education program for at-risk moms-to-be, called Baby College. There is help for homeless veterans, funds to establish a "homeless to housed pipeline" as well as a request to fund the cold weather shelter. There are resources in education to nutrition for the growing Hispanic community in the city, and an ultimate goal: to provide support for all children "from cradle to career."

"We're partnering again and again with community organizations," Mayor Berke said. "Government cannot and should not go it alone Whether it's Baby College, through the Homeless Veterans Initiative, we're trying to leverage every dollar of ours along with the efforts and funds of private industry and community members to provide the best solutions possible."

The federally mandated storm water fee increase was also absorbed without a tax hike, but all of this means there had to be some losers in the budget. "We had to cut some agencies that had been funded in the past," Berke said. "There were a number of our departments that submitted good ideas that we simply didn't have the funds to do, this year."  More details are expected when Council-members receive their 'budget binders' on Wednesday.

Next up for the mayor is winning approval, then implementation. "We were here late last night, we've been here all weekend. Over the last couple of months, non-stop budget meetings and now it feels like, 'okay, once we get this passed, then we have to go do it,'" he explained. "For me, it's gratifying to ensure that every taxpayer dollar is used in the best possible way and we are going to continue to have that be a mission of this government."

Review and approval is likely a four week process. The City Council will hold budget hearings over the next two Tuesdays, followed by votes on the following two. If it passes both, the mayor looks to have it signed and running by the beginning of Fiscal Year 2015, which is July 1st.
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Key points of the Mayor’s 2015 budget are:
  • Safer streets Total requested: $113,243,532
  • Stronger neighborhoods Total requested: $46,782,640
  • Growing economy Total requested: $34,730,130
  • Smarter students & stronger families Total requested: $32,944,516
  • High performing government Total requested: $26,432,043
The Mayor's office says that the city can deliver all of the additional programs and benefits to the citizens without a property tax increase, according to a news release from the city.

Over 45% of the proposed budget is spent on public safety, following the Mayor’s Violence Reduction Initiative and its related efforts in the community.

Another significant portion of the budgets addresses growing the city’s economy, with an emphasis on small business and Chattanooga’s growing high-tech sector.

The Mayor also proposes a safety net for military veterans who have served by creating an initiative to end chronic veterans’ homelessness.
 
“First and foremost, we have a duty to help those who have fought for our freedom. This budget helps us take the first step toward our goal to eliminate chronic homelessness for veterans by the end of 2016,” said Mayor Berke.



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