Mayor Berke: "Things Are Going Well In Our Community"

Saturday, August 9, 2014 - by Hollie Webb
Mayor Andy Berke
Mayor Andy Berke
- photo by Hollie Webb

Mayor Andy Berke told the Chattanooga Civitan Club on Friday, "We're at our lowest level of unemployment in close to a decade. We're at our lowest level of foreclosure in nine years...Things are going well in our community."

He also said, "Our violent crime, despite the fact that it's way too high, is down 12 percent from last year."

This drop is partly due to the Violence Reduction Initiative, Mayor Berke's program to make Chattanooga safer, he told the club.

He said, "We've actually gone through and mapped each of these gangs or groups...We can tell them, 'We know who your group is.'"

For those who want to change their lifestyle and "put down their weapons," he said the city will help in any way possible.

Mayor Berke said, "We give them a number they can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

So far, 58 people have been placed in jobs.

He said, "Not everybody who gets a job is going to put down their weapon, but we think that's a great way to start."

Mayor Berke also said, "The second part that we're doing, we're paying a lot of attention to domestic violence."

In fact, the city plans to open a family justice center in July 2015. The center will be a place where victims of domestic violence can go and find all of the resources they need in one location.

Mayor Berke said another focus of the city has been supplementing education.

He said, "Traditionally, because there's only a county school system, the city has said, 'That's not us.'....Well, education is too important to our community for anybody to throw up their hands and say it's somebody else's business."

Because of this, the city has started a reading initiative at each of its 18 recreation centers.

Mayor Berke said, "During the school year, we had more than 2,000 kids doing at least 45 minutes of reading at those centers a week."

He said in the first six months, "We had 437 kids make a year's worth of progress."

He stated, "If you can read better, you tend to do better in school."

Mayor Berke said Baby University, another family development program, is "concentrated on getting kids off to a great start." He said the city hopes to help areas such as Alton Park, which has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the state.

In terms of economic development, he told the club the Volkswagen expansion will bring another 2,000 jobs to the city. Volkswagen also has plans to build a welcome center downtown.

He said another issue he wanted to work on is affordable housing.

He said, "We have a real problem in our city with affordable housing...We have the seventh highest rise in rents in the country over the last five years."

Mayor Berke said this makes it difficult for young people who wanted to move back to Chattanooga and live downtown.

As a potential solution, he said the city is working with private developers to create rental units on empty lots currently owned by the city.

Overall, he said, "We've had no tax increase and we continue to try to live within our budget."

Mayor Berke said he considers Chattanooga to be the best "mid-sized city in America."

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