Over the past several months, Lodi resident Ed Miller has diligentially attended almost every Lodi City Council meeting, often clad in his Tea Party Patriots shirt.
As the group's representative for the council, he is on a mission to find out how the city works and how normal citizens can positively affect local government.
So he appreciated the opportunity to listen to City Manager Rad Bartlam explain the ins and outs of the Lodi's almost 600-page budget on Tuesday night. It was the first in a series of twice-a-month meetings discussing the city's finances.
"The way (Bartlam's) doing it is appropriate because the detail level is excrutiating. Doing this in bite-sized pieces is a bit easier to do," Miller said.
About 50 people showed up for the meeting, including residents, city department heads, representatives from the unions and members of the council-appointed boards and committees.
Bartlam came up with the idea to provide a more an indepth look at different areas of the budget and get feedback on the city's financial challenges for the next year.
While standing at the podium with a laser pointer, he spent Tuesday's meeting reviewing some of the main revenue streams for the city.
The city has 105 different funds, and Bartlam said one of the hardest concepts for people to understand is that many of the funds are restricted for a specific purpose.
For example, development impact fees can only be used for new capital improvements, he said. When developers build in the city, they are responsible for paying a certain amount of money for services and infrastructure, like wastewater, streets, fire and transportation.
People occassionally question whether fire department impact fees could be used for fire station No. 2, which is aging and falling apart. But the money cannot replace existing infrastructure, it has to be used for new projects, Bartlam said.
He also said people ask whether park impact fees could go to fire station two.
"We can't do that, we can't inter-mix the funds. Dollars need to be kept in their silos," he said.
Miller said he learned that budgeting for government is much different than for a company.
"You have all these restrictions trickling down from the state and federal government," Miller said. "It's interesting to see how narrowly the city is painted in with how the revenues flow."
As a member of the Site Plan and Architectural Review committee, Mitch Slater said he appreciated that Bartlam is holding the meetings.
"It does inform many people in the community about how the process works, so when we need to do the heavy lifting, we will know what's going on and will be supportive," Slater said.
At the end of the meeting, Jane Lea said most of her questions have to deal with expenditures as opposed to revenues. She said she is not quite sure what to think of the meetings yet, but described it as a class on the city budget.
"It all comes down to the council. Will they have the same attitudes as we do when this is done, and will they take our advice? Or will they just keep spending, spending, spending, like they did in the past?" she said.
The city plans to hold the Budget Strategy Group meetings at 5:30 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of every month in Carnegie Forum, 305 W. Pine St. The city is taping the meetings and will post them on its website for anyone who cannot attend.