Chattanooga has two very different — and startling — items in its proposed 2019 budget.
Neither by itself is particularly surprising. What's jarring is the juxtaposition of the costs of the two items, especially when viewed together.
First is a proposal for a $4 million lighting system for the Walnut Street Bridge — our so-called "identity maker" and historic pedestrian bridge.
The lights, designed by Canada-based Moment Factory, use "data responsive lighting design" that would respond to people walking on the bridge and the flow of the Tennessee River beneath it. "The movements would be depicted by color variations and 'ripples of light' that gradually climb and descend the bridge's exterior," the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported Sunday.
OK. Maybe that sounds nice. But $4 million nice? And that's about $2 million more than the city's original cost prediction in March.
Then there is the other proposal — three "re-entry navigators" (anti-gang strategy case workers) added to the city's payroll at a cost of $172,444 for fiscal 2019 (trimmed down from the Police Department's initial $250,000 ask). The navigators would add a support system for young people who get out of gang life voluntarily.
The city's gang violence deterrence program was intended to take a carrot-and-stick approach to gang violence — doubling down on gang members who continued a life of crime, but helping those who opted out with assistance in getting GEDs, training, jobs and other wraparound services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment.
But the carrot part fell into disarray early this year when the city council refused to vote on a $600,000, two-year contract with a local organization called Father to the Fatherless. Now the city is proposing to do the work itself by adding three positions in the Department of Youth and Family Development.
That's great. What took us so long to get here?
But does anyone see a great disconnect in these two proposals?
We'll spend $4 million on fancy moving lights on a 128-year-old bridge, but only $172,444 to offer guidance to people who desperately need help finding their way out of gangs.
We'll put lights on the bridge and coo about tourists, but scrimp on services to deter gang violence and the ever-increasing costs of police, courts and jails.
We might have our priorities a bit confused.