By Nick Woodruff
STILLWATER, Okla. —
The city of Stillwater’s first budget fair provided many “aha” moments for its residents.
Many Stillwater residents came to the Stillwater Community Center Monday night to hear public officials and city employees talk about the 2014 budget. Mayor John Bartley said the city budget is complex and government accounting is “convoluted” compared to regular accounting.
Bartley said the budget fair was created to help residents better understand government accounting. He said trying to explain the budget can be hard.
“The traditional way of trying to explain the budget just don’t seem to really engage people,” Bartley said. “The traditional way is boring and people just don’t understand it.”
To help understand the budget better, Bartley said the city created what it calls the “bubble chart.” The bubble chart helps people understand how much money is going to certain areas and gives the residents a better perspective, he said.
The city has certain functions and items it should provide residents, Bartley said. Providing those functions makes for a happier and a more pleasurable experience for Stillwater residents and its visitors.
“The city government has four main functions,” Bartley said. “Public safety, infrastructure, economic development and quality of life. There is no dot on the bubble sheet that doesn’t involve one of those four components.”
Vice Mayor Chuck Hopkins said it’s hard for people to understand components of the budget. Even though the city passed the budget, Hopkins said the city can amend and change the budget anytime it needs to.
The budget fair was for residents to express concerns and bring to attention things the city council might accidentally overlook, Hopkins said. It gave residents an opportunity to ask any questions they wanted to ask comfortably, he said.
Hopkins said the budget fair is like coffee groups he is part of around town.
“I tell people I drink three times more coffee than a person probably should,” Hopkins said.
“I make lots of coffee groups. You get good input from things like that and this is a comfortable setting like that.”
Elaine Courtright, who works for Stillwater Group Homes, said the budget fair gives residents, like her, the opportunity to feel comfortable asking questions. She said not only did she have the chance to ask many questions, but she also received insightful and understandable answers.
Courtright said she came mainly to ask questions about the kind of funding the Stillwater Public Library was getting. She said she also had an opportunity to tell the city how much she appreciated the new recycling program.
Overall, the budget fair helped Courtright understand her questions and give opinions comfortably, she said.
“I found it to be informative and in a nice friendly environment,” Courtright said. “You know, it’s not an adversarial environment; I didn’t have to go to a city council meeting to express opinions and find things out.”