Monday, July 25, 2016

What you may not know: Week of July 25

The last full week of July is also a committee week for the Appleton Common Council, and here are some of the items of interest on various agendas:

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

As part of the city's annual budget process, the Finance Committee and Common Council are asked to approve the city's special assessment policies for the following year during the summer. It's important that we take this up as early as possible because any changes could have 2017 budgetary implications.

The number of people impacted and the depth of impact felt due to special assessments has greatly decreased in recent years with the implementation of Appleton's wheel tax, which replaced the revenue lost by the elimination of assessments for street repairs. However, some assessments remain and, if any alderperson would like to propose changes to the system this is the time to do so. Personally, I have no amendments planned.

Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

Efforts to turn the City of Appleton into a "Railroad Quiet Zone" will take a step forward on Tuesday night as the Municipal Services Committee receives a study from SRF Consulting Group on what it would take to make this happen. While the railroad does not run through or significantly impact the 13th district, I still frequently receive complaints about the volume and timing of train horns in the city and can only imagine the number of complaints received by alderpersons in districts with tracks running through. I'm looking forward to seeing what it would take to alleviate this issue.

Community and Economic Development, Wednesday, 5 pm

Back in March the Common Council voted to approve a recommendation to allocate around $500,000 in federal dollars available through the Community Development Block Grant program based on the results of an extended application process and review. Unfortunately, some unforeseen circumstances are going to require us to reopen that discussion this week.

One of the measures the federal government uses to gauge the effective use of grant dollars is timely expenditure: Grant dollars are supposed to be given to projects that can start quickly and expend the money within a program year. In this case, that creates an issue for one subrecipient that is experiencing an unexpected delay in a program due to changing state regulations. On Wednesday the committee will be asked to recommend approval of a reallocation plan that reassigns that subrecipient's funds among four other organizations that did not receive their entire request. Here's a quick breakdown of the new allocations:

  • STEP Industries requested $30,000 and will now receive $24,398.50, up from $12,384.
  • Harbor House requested $27,500 and will now receive $22,383.50, up from $21,085.
  • Homeless Connections requested $20,000 and will now receive $16,758.50, up from $15,460.
  • LEAVEN requested $20,000 and will now receive $16,758.50, up from $15,460.
  • NAMI had previously requested $23,400 and was awarded $15,460, but has since rescinded their request.

This process is challenging because we receive so many worthwhile proposals for what to do with the money we have available, and we very rarely have the resources available to fund any of the Public Service requests in full. However, we remain grateful to the applicant organizations for their work in our community and do our best to distribute the funds available in an equitable fashion.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Monday, July 18, 2016

What you may not know: Week of July 18

The Appleton Common Council will hold its regularly scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday at 7 pm. Both of this week's most notable (in my opinion) action items were discussed in last week's update, so I hope you won't mind that all I have this week is a brief update on their status:

  • On Monday the Parks and Recreation Committee voted 3-0 to recommend denial of a resolution calling for the city to allow leashed dogs in parks. I remain in favor of this change and I'm proud to be joined by over 700 petition signers, the Fox Cities Convention and Visitor's Bureau and Appleton Downtown Incorporated in supporting a change to our dated, fear-driven policies.
  • On Tuesday the Municipal Services Committee voted 4-0 to recommend approval of a request calling for the yield signs at the corner of Alexander and Lindbergh St (the northeast corner of Huntley Elementary School) to be changed to stop signs. This should pass council without debate or incident.
You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Monday, July 11, 2016

What you may not know: Week of July 11

Good morning, folks. I hope everyone had a safe and happy Fourth of July holiday. I spent mine up north visiting family. Now that I'm back, here's what on the agendas for our regularly-scheduled committee week:

Parks & Recreation, Monday, 6 pm:

One of the most contentious issues we've ever faced during my time on council returns to the spotlight this week, as the Parks & Recreation Committee will again be asked to consider a resolution to allow leashed dogs in Appleton city parks. Some of you will likely remember that this issue came up back in 2013, and was the subject of some pretty heated discussion at that time. To date, that discussion is the only time I've ever had to reply to a constituent email with the following:
Dear (redacted),
Thank you for your email. Please allow me to assure you that I do not have marbles in my brain.
I could go on for days on this issue (and over the coming months I'll likely get that opportunity), but for now I'll attempt to keep things brief by narrowing my argument down to a few bullet points:

  • There is plenty of precedent both within the Fox Valley (Neenah, for example) and beyond for allowing dogs in parks. The communities that have done so do not appear to be experiencing major issues with sanitation or safety as a result.
  • There's strong reason to believe our existing ordinance banning dogs in parks isn't actually keeping irresponsible pet owners out of parks. 
  • Furthermore, that irresponsible group represents a very small percentage of all pet owners and is not an acceptable reason to penalize all dog owners.
  • Encountering a leashed dog in a park, where you can give it a wide berth if you so choose, is actually less likely to cause an issue than encountering the same dog on a city sidewalk.
  • Having safe and controlled spaces to take a dog during training is a critically important part of the effort to have an obedient, well-socialized animal.
  • Having an unleashed, free-for-all dog park is not the same thing and does not offer the same training or socialization opportunities as having your leashed dog in a park.
  • We have anecdotal evidence to suggest that our policies on dogs in parks have caused dog owners to choose to visit or live elsewhere. 
I'm sure this issue is going to be contentious again in the weeks and perhaps months to come. At the end of the day, though, this is the simple reality for me: I'm not convinced that our current fear-driven policy is actually keeping anyone safer, but I do believe it's keeping a significant number of responsible people from enjoying our parks and making our community a less attractive place to visit and live.

Three years ago I asked council to please consider adopting a similar set of policies to what is currently established in state parks. The state rules include the following:
  • Pets must be on a leash (no longer than eight feet) and under control at all times. Pet owners who fail to control a pet or whose pet is creating a public nuisance may be asked to leave the park or issued citations.
  • Loose pets may be seized and treated as stray animals.
  • Pet owners are responsible for removal and disposal of waste products (just like they are on any other property).
  • Pets are not allowed inside buildings, in playgrounds, or places where food is being prepared.
I think this is a realistic framework for a compromise that would still leave our parks as a safe, usable space for all of the current users but also remove unnecessary restriction on our responsible pet owners.


Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

A long project will take an important step forward on Tuesday night when the Municipal Services Committee has their first chance to see the results of our ongoing Downtown Mobility Study presented by AECOM and Toole Design Group. I have not yet seen the presentation but I'm eager to hear their findings and I hope we'll find recommendations within that we can implement to make our downtown safer and more accessible for all users.

Additionally, on Tuesday the committee will be asked to consider a recommendation to replace the current yield signs with stop signs at the corner of Alexander and Lindbergh streets. That's the northeast corner of the Huntley Elementary School grounds. Due to a technical issue I'm currently unable to open the attachment to read the rationale for this change, but I suspect this move will make this intersection a little safer for the pedestrians that cross the road here each school day.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Monday, June 20, 2016

What you may not know: Week of June 20

The first day of summer is also the first day of a busy committee week for the Appleton Common Council. While most of this week's discussions are unlikely to be controversial, I wanted to highlight a few discussions that I thought might shed some light on some of our processes:

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

The Finance Committee has a relatively brief agenda for our Tuesday meeting, but one of the action items calls for the city to reject bids and postpone scheduled work on a stormwater lift station in Arbutus Park.

The 2016 budget allocated $140,000 for the construction portion of a project to rehabilitate this facility, which raises up stormwater in this otherwise low-lying area to allow it to flow downhill into the storm sewers instead of backing up into the park. Unfortunately, our bidding process for this portion of the project was not as successful as we would have hoped: The city received just one bid on the project, and at $215,000 it's more than 50% above budget.

Decisions like this put us in a tough spot. Certainly, no one wants to go over budget on any project. However, this project was in our budget for this year because this work does need to be done. In this case, the staff recommendation is to reject all bids and put the project out for bids again in the fall. There's no guarantee that we'll receive more or better bids at that point, but that's what we're hoping for.

Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

Later that same night the Municipal Services Committee will meet to discuss three items of significant potential long-term interest:

  • First, the committee will be asked to recommend approval of the city's "Complete Streets Policy," a set of guidelines to use when designing future street projects. This item would set the basic expectations for future road reconstruction around the city and identify what requests for variation would require an appeal.
  • Next, the committee will discuss next steps in the city's effort to become a Railroad Quiet Zone. There aren't a lot of details in with the agenda, but the information items calls for a discussion of "which option to pursue for property owner notification."
  • Finally, the committee also has an information item to provide an update on a previous resolution calling for the Public Works and Parks & Recreation Departments to create and share a new position to coordinate efforts to expand and improve bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in the city. There's more to it than this, but the short version of this discussion is that a request to fund this proposed position has been sent to the mayor for his consideration as part of the 2017 budget.
Fox Cities Transit Commission, Wednesday, 3 pm

Of all the things I've had to deal with during my time on council, it's possible the funding mechanism for Valley Transit is the most complicated. The combination of federal and state funding that meets up with a local share split up among more than half a dozen municipalities (with contributions from three counties and various other organizations) creates a dizzying equation to attempt to follow.

This week we'll get another glimpse into that process as the Transit Commission will be asked to approve the acceptance of a pair of federal grants that will be combined with budgeted funds from previous years and a local share from the organization's depreciation fund to provide for the purchase of three new buses for the fleet.

The age, mileage and related reliability issues of the fleet is one of the greatest issues facing Valley Transit in its effort to remain viable for the long term. Three buses won't be enough to solve that, but it is a big step in the right direction and I'm glad to see forward progress on this front.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Monday, June 13, 2016

What you may not know: Week of June 13

First off, my apologies for letting this blog lapse a bit. Here are my three excuses:

  • First of all, I try not to "cry wolf" and attract your attention to this space on weeks when I don't have anything of significant interest to discuss. We've had some quiet weeks as a council lately, and on those weeks I don't waste your time or mine by writing and asking you to read unnecessary updates.
  • Second, on a personal note, things like the Memorial Day holiday and my wedding anniversary led to me being out of town on a couple of weekends/Mondays when I would normally have written.
Anyway, enough excuses. I'm back at my desk now and here are some of the items we'll be discussing at our regularly scheduled Common Council meeting on Wednesday:

Cell phone towers

Several weeks ago I wrote about a Special Use Permit request from Verizon asking the city for permission to construct a new cell phone tower on Kesting Court, near the intersection of Northland Avenue and Meade Street. The proposed tower is very near multiple single-family homes (it could be as close as ten feet from the lot line adjacent to one property), which has raised a great deal of concern.

I share the residents' concern regarding this tower's impact value on their property values and quality of life. With that said, as I noted when a similar issue came up last summer, a 2013 amendment to state statute greatly limits our actions here. Full details on the statute are available at that last link, but the short version is that the city is not allowed to treat cell towers any differently than we would any other commercial building and cannot reject towers based on aesthetic concerns.

A vote to deny this permit would be a clear and blatant violation of state statute. I wish that both Verizon and the state had put us in a better position, but as we stand right now we have no choice but to allow this project to move forward.

South Oneida streetscape design

As the South Oneida Street reconstruction approaches, we've reached some of the decision points regarding the aesthetics of one of the most-trafficked entrances to downtown. Last week the Municipal Services Committee was asked to consider the Department of Public Works' recommendations for street lights in this area, and recommended a plan for approval (on a 3-1 vote) with the following amendments:
  • Adding semi-decorative city-owned LED lights from Roeland Avenue to the Skyline Bridge (except for one block) at a cost of $80,000.
  • Adding the same semi-decorative, city-owned LED lights on the bridge and up to Prospect Avenue at a cost of $40,000.
  • Replacing light poles from Wilson Street to the bridge with black fiberglass poles at a cost of $159,000.
All three of those amendments received at least one dissenting vote, so there was some controversy around the decision to add almost $280,000 in expenses to this project. I anticipate this item will receive significant debate again on Wednesday with a wide array of opinions on the value of decorative and/or uniform light fixtures.

Employee Health Clinic

Back in March I mentioned a proposal calling for the city and the Appleton Area School District to come together to work with Thedacare to provide a new health clinic for our employees and their families. Opening our own health clinic is projected to save the city a good deal in health care costs while providing employees more convenient access to acute, primary, occupational health and preventive care. At that time council approved a contract with Thedacare to provide this service at a space to be determined.

Last week the Finance Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of two items: An intergovernmental agreement between the city and the school district regarding cost sharing for this project and a lease for space for the clinic near Thedacare Regional Medical Center Appleton (formerly known as Appleton Medical Center). Neither item generated any major debate, so it looks like this project should move forward without issue.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Monday, May 9, 2016

What you may not know: Week of May 9

This week features a nearly-full slate of committee meetings for the Appleton Common Council, with nine meetings scheduled between now and Wednesday at 6 pm. To the highlights:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm:

It's been almost a year now since the city debated, initially rejected and eventually reconsidered a special use permit for a proposed new cell phone tower near West Wisconsin Avenue last July. This week the City Plan Commission will be asked to consider another such application off Kesting Court, which is near the intersection of Northland Avenue and Meade Street.

As I wrote last summer, recent changes to state law greatly limit the reasons why we could consider rejecting a permit of this nature. While I share the neighborhood's concerns about property values and safety around this facility, the state has largely tied our hands here.

Further north along Meade Street, the Plan Commission will also be asked to consider three related action items regarding a proposed community living arrangement (CLA) just north of the intersection of Meade and County Highway JJ, near Fox Valley Lutheran High School. The action items are a Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use Map Amendment, a re-zoning from R-1A (single family housing) to R-3 (multi-family housing) and a Special Use Permit.

Community Living Arrangement facilities serve a very clear need in our community, as our population ages and sees an increasing demand for senior care. However, as I've written previously, concentrating these facilities in one area of the city creates a significant risk of strain on resources. As I wrote at that link, the city currently has six active or under construction CLA facilities near the north end of the 13th district. This proposed facility is outside the district, but it's also served by Fire Station #6, which is tasked with responding to ambulance calls.

As part of the 2016 budget process we were made aware of the fact that ongoing growth on the city's north side was likely going to require the addition of a new fire truck and the hiring of additional firefighters to operate it for Fire Station #6. The costs of both a new truck and the ongoing salaries of its firefighters are very significant. Continuing to concentrate CLAs on the northeast side of the city will only increase the need to take on that expense.

Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

No official action will be taken in reaction to this report, but on Tuesday the Municipal Services Committee has an information item scheduled to present the annual crash overview for 2014, and the raw data shows some alarming numbers along Northland Avenue.

The report is available via the attachment at this link. Page 17 of the report shows the total crash counts at various intersections in the city, and the top five includes three intersections with Northland Avenue: Richmond Street, Ballard Road and Meade Street. Northland's intersections with Oneida Street and Mason Street also make the top 25. There are only six signalized intersections involving Northland Avenue in the city, and five of them are among our most dangerous.

Thankfully, work is underway to replace the Northland/Richmond intersection, which saw 27 crashes in this year of data. However, these numbers would seem to imply that there's more that could be done to make this corridor safe.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Monday, April 25, 2016

What you may not know: Week of April 25

A new council year is underway, and this week the Appleton Common Council has its first full slate of committee meetings scheduled. This year I'm honored to be serving in the following groups:

  • Chairperson of the Safety & Licensing Committee (third year on committee, second year as chair).
  • Member of the Finance Committee (third year).
  • Member of the Fox Cities Transit Commission (fourth year).
  • Member of the City Plan Commission (second year).
I'm honored to be back in all of these roles, and grateful to the mayor and my colleagues for giving me this slate of opportunities for another year. I'm also hopeful to remain as the Finance Committee's representative on the Central Equipment Agency Review Committee. That appointment will be made this week.

This week's committee schedule includes a variety of housekeeping-type items, including electing vice chairs for each committee, setting committee schedules and the like. Beyond that, one item likely to be of some interest is on a pair of agendas:

Parks & Recreation, Monday, 6 pm
Municipal Services, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

Appleton's municipal bicycle infrastructure, mainly bike lanes, has been one of the most hotly debated topics during my 3+ years on council as we've faced challenges at every opportunity to find a way for moving cars, parked cars and bikes to share the roads and build a network of bike-friendly routes across the city. 

Some of that debate will likely come up again this week as two committees are asked to consider a resolution submitted by Alderman Joe Martin calling for the city to have a shared employee between the Parks & Recreation and Public Works departments to develop new bicycle programs, seek and apply for grants and continue work to make the city a more bike and pedestrian friendly community.

We're still in the very early stages of this conversation, so a lot would need to be ironed out in terms of how this position would work. I think it's an interesting conversation to have, though, and I'm looking forward to the discussion.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.