The city is facing an $8.4 million revenue drop, City Council members were told Tuesday. Officials said $6 million of that amount is due to a steep drop in state and local sales tax collections.
Despite the loss attributed to the coronavirus crisis, the upcoming budget will not include a property tax increase, Chief Operating Officer Maura Sullivan said.
She said a hiring freeze has been in effect since March, and that employee salaries will be frozen. That includes fire and police experience increases. However, longevity bonuses for city employees with at least five years of experience will be in the budget.
Capital expenditures will be cut by 10 percent.
Ms. Sullivan said the city will not be able to carry out a number of endeavors it had planned when the fiscal outlook appeared much rosier prior to March.
The city still plans to spend $8.4 million for road repair and paving. The Lake Resort Drive repair is budgeted as well as replacement of Fire Hall 15.
The total city budget is $519,973,093.
Daisy Madison, chief financial officer, said the city was able to balance its budget due to building its reserves to as high as $80 million last year. She said they are still above $60 million.
The city had to spend $12.5 million for tornado repairs. It hopes to eventually get much of that money reimbursed, but Ms. Madison said that may take many months.
Mayor Andy Berke said, "Chattanooga's history is about overcoming impossible odds and bouncing back from tragedy. The next chapter of our story will reflect this strength, but local government must put our city in the best position for long-term success. As we were putting together our fiscal year 2021 budget, I made sure that we stayed focused on a set of core values to guide our decisions:
- Continue to serve the people of Chattanooga, particularly the most vulnerable, as efficiently and effectively as possible.
- Do not make short-term decisions without considering the long-term consequences for City employees or our fiscal health.
- Make sure that Chattanooga can emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.
I'm proud that our FY21 budget reflects these values. We presented this budget to the Chattanooga City Council earlier today and we have uploaded it to budget.chattanooga.gov so that you can explore it for yourself.
"This budget is about responsibility, resilience, and results. We are looking at an $8.4 million reduction in revenues compared to last year's budget. All of our usual sources of funding, especially local option sales tax, have been deeply impaired by the double crises of coronavirus and the East Brainerd tornado. Despite these challenges, this budget does not call for a property tax increase or cuts to critical city services.
"The demands on city government have never been higher at the exact moment when our revenues are seeing historic shortfalls. As I write this, more than a decade's worth of new jobs have been wiped out. At the end of April, more than 33.5 million Americans had filed initial unemployment claims and Tennessee's unemployment rate is now approximately 15% -- higher than the prior statewide peak of 10.4% at the height of the Great Recession.
"When our country does begin to emerge from the current economic crisis, the cities that have the strongest quality of life and are most ready to do business will be the most competitive. I'm committed to making sure Chattanooga is one of them.
"That's why we are going to keep making significant investments in supporting small businesses, ending homelessness, creating affordable housing, and strategic capital projects that will put people to work and leverage more private sector investment. We're also asking the City Council to approve a paving budget of $8,422,907 which includes the largest-ever commitment of non-emergency dollars to caring for our streets and roads.
"While so much about our country and community has changed, our priorities remain as strong as ever. For seven years, you have told me what matters to you the most: stronger neighborhoods, smarter students, safer streets, growing the economy, and a high-performing government. In spite of the extraordinary challenges we face, our FY21 budget makes meaningful progress in each of these areas, all of which are focused on improving the lives of you and your family.
"We will get through this together. We always have and we always do. Thank you for your support and please stay safe."