What if you called a meeting and nobody came?

Actually, hundreds of people flocked to the Southeast Expo Center Thursday night — the site where city officials held their first public meeting to prepare for the new city budget.

However, they weren’t there to see city officials jump through any figurative hoops about the city’s budget for the looming fiscal year.

Instead, they wanted to see elephants and acrobats at the American All Star Circus, also held at the Expo Center on Thursday night.

As cars, pickups, SUVs and vans poured into the Expo Center grounds, they caused a minor traffic jam.

“I wonder which circus they’ve come to see?” one wag quipped.

The answer soon became obvious.

As a continual stream of area residents stood in line at one door to get into the circus, only one McAlester person not connected to somebody in city government attended the city’s budget meeting: Mel Stubbings.

Stubbings, who recently stepped down from the voluntary job of heading the city Audit and Finance Committee, joined about 20 McAlester city employees and officials at the meeting.

“The reason I’m here, for lack of anything better, is to show support for the people who came here,” Stubbings said, referring to the city officials and employees.

“You should not take away from this that people don’t care,” Stubbings said. “They do care. They’re just reluctant to get involved.”

City Manager Susan Monroe noted that city officials wanted to see what city residents believe should be priorities for the 2006-07 city budget, which begins on July 1 and will extend through June 30, 2007.

“This all came together, with the exception of the public,” Monroe said.

Assistant City Manager Bart Van Nieuwenhuise came prepared with charts, graphs and a power point presentation. The city has a breakdown of capital needs by division for the 2006-2007 fiscal year, but that doesn’t mean there’s enough money to go around.

The city’s projected capital needs total $5,623,385. Van Nieuwenhuise said $5.6 million seems like a lot of money “but when you realize we have a quarter of a billion dollars in assets, a yearly $5.6 million investment is not that much.”

The capital needs cited by Van Niuewenhuise were:

• Engineering/plants: $578,710.

• Codes/public works: $967,500.

• Streets, roads and equipment: $1,752,0000.

• Police: $693,790.

• Fire: $335,250.

• Utility office/City Hall: $133,390.

• Southeast Expo Center: $80,000.

• Community Services: $232,745.

• Water/sewer lines: $850,000.

Those present voted on the most pressing capital needs. Forty-three sets of personal protective equipment for firefighters at a cost of $65,000 and 10 police vehicles at a cost of $270,000 received the most votes.

City officials are hoping for better representation at the next public workshop, set for 10 a.m. on March 16 at the city council chambers at City Hall.

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