Community leaders weigh in on Mayor Berke's 2015 budget - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Community leaders weigh in on Mayor Berke's 2015 budget

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Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke has unveiled his proposed 2015 budget with a major focus on public safety. More than 45 percent of the general fund is allocated for public safety.

Part of Mayor Berke's campaign platform when he ran for office was improving the streets of Chattanooga. From outreach programs, to funding to help even out the police department's pay scale, Berke says improving public safety is his top priority.

"We've been good stewards of the tax payer dollars and have done so in a way that really pushes our priority areas: safer streets, smarter students, stronger neighborhoods, a growing economy and a high-performing government," says Mayor Andy Berke.

Out of the nearly $217 million budget more than 45 percent, or $101 million, is being devoted to public safety.

"For me, what that means is that he cares about the local folks here and he's willing to put his money where his mouth is and engage local people to be part of that change. That's the thing that I love the most. It's not dictatorial, it's inclusive," says Paul Green, Executive Director for 'Hope for the Inner City' ministries.

For the past 10 years the non-profit organization has focused on job readiness and gang prevention. For the first time, $75,000 of grant money is being allocated to help the mission.

"I'm excited that the churches are now included in the strategy. I think if you look across Chattanooga there are a number of churches that want to do good and can do good and have some infrastructure capacity. And for us to be invited to the table, it's a big thing," says Green.

Also a part of the $101 million is $950,000 to fix what is called a "broken pay structure" at the police department. The plan would base employees' pay on rank and years of service and would correct past pay discrepancies.

"First and foremost I want to say it's about time," says Sgt. Toby Hewitt.

Hewitt has been with the force for 14 years and served two terms as FOP president. He says he has seen the pay issues drive good officers away and hopes that changes.

"With this pay plan fix I'm hoping that we get to retain those and also we can reach further out and cast a wider net as far as recruitment," he says.

The city council will hold hearings the next two Tuesdays, and hold votes at the following two meetings. The administration hopes to have the budget signed by the start of the fiscal year, July 1st.

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