Two weeks after requesting a 90-day extension for filing their first budget for the city, members of Mayor Andy Berke's administration are revealing new methods for how they'll chart Chattanooga's finances.
The process for allocating revenues will be unlike any previous budget in recent Chattanooga history.
Berke is not required to submit his financial plan until late July. In the meantime, department heads are being advised to submit new outcome-oriented requests to the mayor and collaborate with their colleagues to align their resources to meet priorities.
Andrew Kean, chief operating officer for Chattanooga, began to relay Berke's new budgeting goals to city department administrators on Wednesday.
The method is called Budgeting for Outcomes.
In meetings at City Hall, Kean challenged heads to budget based on "outcomes" specifically related to key priorities Berke has emphasized on both the campaign trail and during his two months as mayor.
"The crux of this initiative is to align available resources with strategic priorities that the mayor has identified through community input," Kean said in an interview with Nooga.com on Wednesday.
A relatively new concept that has been implemented in a handful of cities, Budgeting for Outcomes begins by defining the amount of revenues available to a city.
Next, the city determines a set of goals that matter most to citizens and decides how much of existing revenues can be spent to ensure that they are met. Kean said the process would hinge on "already available dollars" as opposed to new monies.
He also committed to presenting a balanced budget.
"This methodology is about the alignment of the available dollars toward a budget that achieves results," he said. "That's the essence of this."
Lacie Stone, director of communications for Berke, said that although anticipated revenues for the upcoming year are still unknown, the city's finance team expected the total revenue number for the general fund to be close to the current fiscal year.
Last year, City Council members approved a $209 million budget, which included no tax increases.
Another key element of the mayor's new budgeting strategy are instructions for departments to allocate at least 5 percent of their general fund requests for the upcoming year to be put toward outcome-based goals, which will be determined in collaboration with other departments. For example, the Department of Economic and Community Development could be encouraged to submit proposals for using 5 percent of their requested funds to go toward a goal in conjunction with the Department of Public Safety.
Stone said the objective was to foster cooperation between departments across government.
"The Budgeting for Outcomes approach helps break down silos that can exist between city departments," Stone said. "By intentionally encouraging collaboration, it compels everyone in city government to focus on what matters to the community."
In recent years, the Budgeting for Outcomes method has become more appealing to cities responding to financial pressures. Tracy Gordon, a fellow in the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, said the style represented a shift from more typical budgeting methods in recent years.
"The idea is usually to move away from budgets as accounting and control mechanisms and toward performance," Gordon said. "Budgeting for Outcomes is the latest version of that. The idea is not to take last year's budget and add to the status quo, but rather to take a step back and examine what government is about, what the city is trying to accomplish and if it can be done with the same or even less resources."
During his yearlong campaign, Berke campaigned on core issues of public safety, economic development, and youth and family development. Berke was elected in March with a 72 percent majority of the vote, but only 16 percent of registered voters turned out.
Since then, the mayor has created three new departments, all reflecting his key priorities.
Once outcomes-based budget proposals are submitted, a results team will be responsible for allocating funds to ideas that are deemed to have measurable results and to be in line with public interest.
The initial result team for the city will include key members of Berke's administration, including Chief of Staff Travis McDonough, Senior Adviser and Chief Policy Officer Stacy Richardson, Deputy Chief of Staff and Chief Innovation Officer Jeff Cannon and Chief Finance Officer Daisy Madison.
The team will make recommendations to Berke.
In subsequent years, Stone said the results team would be expanded to include representatives from other city departments and potentially citizens.
Not all aspects of the change may run smoothly.
"You're taking a budget that has existed for a while and organizational structures that people are used to," Gordon said. "Changing that can be difficult."
Kean added that he expected revisions to the process would happen as observations are made.
"You want to review performance, and you want to understand if you did it correctly," Kean said. "And because we're talking about humans, my guess is we'll have chances to revise a few things."
Although the outcomes-based approach will be limited this year, administration members indicated that their intent is to apply it to the entire city budget in the coming years. Kean predicted that once changes had been implemented, the results would become tangible.
"I think it will yield credibility when people see the results—and in a powerful way," Kean said. "It will take time, but it will generate results. This is the first step."
City Council members will review the budget in late July and consider approval in August.