UPDATE: Chattanooga's 2019 budget may be put on hold until next month.

City council members approved the first reading of an ordinance requesting an interim budget to be put in place until July 5. The council voted to change the original July 15 deadline before voting on the interim budget itself.

In the past, the mayor's office has requested delays and interim budgets, but not the council as a whole. Councilman Chip Henderson says he hasn’t seen it done since he was elected in 2013. It's happening now because council members say they need clarification on some key budget items, including an increased water quality fee.

For the first time since 2009, the city’s Stormwater Regulations Board is pushing to increase water quality rates over the next five years. It would cost the average homeowner an extra $11 each year. 

“I see it as a major problem to all of us. We may have water to drink but we aren't going to be able to afford it,” said resident, Jerry Jones.

Others agree.

“Enough is enough. It's time to stop. Please don't raise that fee,” said resident, Chris Dooley.

The proposal is part of Mayor Andy Berke's $279 million FY19 budget. City engineers say the rate hike will address the city's sewer system and help meet clean water act requirements. But some council members are concerned about the impact it will have on taxpayers.

“Right now I want to listen to what people have to say and figure out the best way to serve the taxpayers,” said Councilwoman Carol Berz.

The water quality fee is why council chairman Ken Smith proposed a budget delay in the first place. Berz says the council wants to take a closer look at other things as well.

“I don’t think there's a debate so much as special interests and we're getting those answers and I think we'll have most of it by the end of next session,” said Berz.

As the council moves forward, Chattanooga residents say they want one thing.

“As residents of Chattanooga we want bang for our buck. Make sure it's the best because you can do it,” said resident, Rick Carpenter.

The council will have a final vote on the interim budget next week. If approved, it will be in place through July 5.

A public hearing on the water quality fee will take place during next week's council meeting as well.


PREVIOUS STORY: Tuesday, the Chattanooga City Council discussed the proposed 2019 fiscal budget. Some of the budget elements included in Tuesday's discussion were the proposed $4 million Walnut Street Bridge lighting project and public safety.

WALNUT STREET BRIDGE LIGHTING PROJECT

A $4 million proposal to address lighting Walnut Street Bridge is off the table from the proposed 2019 budget.

Mayor Andy Berke’s office said in a public hearing Monday they want to have a fully backed plan before they request funding from the council.

Stacy Richardson, chief of staff to the mayor said they are waiting for feedback from different agencies involved in the project.

The plan included LED lights would big rigged to respond to people walking across the bridge and to the flow of river traffic beneath. Currently, about 212 lights shine from the bridge.

The $4-million project would have been funded half from taxpayer money, and the other from private donations.

Some opponents of the proposal wondered if it's necessary.

"That seems a little excessive to me,” resident Lisa Batten says. “I would think that there's more urgent projects in town that $3-million could be put toward."

The city's public art director says it would be cheaper to replace the current lights, but they cost more to maintain. The new-tech lighting system will save energy and cut the utility bill for the bridge by at least 70%.

Richardson said the project will be brought back to the council in the near future.

CHATTANOOGA FIRE DEPARTMENT

The Chattanooga Fire Department requested $45.96 million for the 2019 fiscal year. Chief Phil Hyman requested 14 new positions for the department. Hyman told the city council this would create better staffing for the department. 

Five personnel will be assigned to every front line apparatus. Chief Hyman also spoke to the city council about adding a second set of turnout gear for all firefighters. 205 have a second set already, while 185 still need a one.
 
Money was also requested for the Smoke Alarm Distribution Program, Operational Skill and Company Officer Leadership Development Training. 

CHATTANOOGA POLICE DEPARTMENT

The Chattanooga Police Department requested $72.77 million for the 2019 fiscal year. Chief David Roddy said he designed the budget around keeping the community safe. 

Chief Roddy would like to add the victim services position to be added to the budget. The original salary was grant funded. He also wants to add an additional victim services coordinator for the city. He hopes that position would be bi-lingual. 

There are some significant changes this year. Chief Roddy told the city council he needs a $2.1 million increase in personnel. CPD is asking for $500,000 for overtime and $224,100 for contracted services with McKamey and 911.

There is a reduction of $240,100 in consultant fees for the VRI transfer to Youth and Family Development. 
 


PREVIOUS STORY: Everybody is wondering what is going to happen to the lighting on the Walnut Street Bridge.

A $4 million proposal could change it a lot.

LED lights would big rigged to respond to people walking across the bridge and to the flow of river traffic beneath.

Right now, about 212 lights shine from the bridge.

Some people want to keep it simple much like the way it is now.

The price tag for the new system would be $4-million with half of that coming from taxpayer money.

Councilman Chip Henderson asked, “What happens if we don't raise the money that we need? Where is that money coming from?”

“You know it's a historic bridge and I think it needs to be treated as such,” adds Henderson.

Councilman Henderson says this is a concern he raised during the city's budget meeting. He says he wasn't given a clear answer, but he wasn't alone.

“There were some other council people that had some other concerns as well, and the chairman directed the city attorney to present a continuing resolution,” says Henderson.

New lighting on the Walnut Street Bridge is included in the city's proposed $14-million rehabilitation project.

The lights would use what's a called a "data responsive lighting design,” meaning ripples of colored light would gradually climb up and down the bridge whenever there's movement on it.

But some wonder if it's necessary.

"That seems a little excessive to me,” resident Lisa Batten says. “I would think that there's more urgent projects in town that $3-million could be put toward."

The city's public art director says it would be cheaper to replace the current lights, but they cost more to maintain.

The new-tech lighting system will save energy and cut the utility bill for the bridge by at least 70%.

It's something Henderson says he wants to take a closer look at.

“What I need to look at is maintenance cost of LED versus the maintenance fee of this lighting package and the licensing fee as well,” says Henderson.

City council members will vote on the budget in two weeks. The final design still has to be approved by three different agencies.

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