Monday, December 5, 2016

What you may not know: Week of December 5

Before I get to this week's council update, I have a bit of housekeeping to take care of:

Nominations for council positions in the city's odd numbered districts (including mine, the 13th) are open and I'm planning on seeking re-election this April. This week I'll be looking for signatures on my nomination petition to get back on the ballot to seek my third term. If you live in the 13th aldermanic district and would be willing to sign, please contact me via my Facebook page, call me at (920)574-2092 or leave a comment on one of our neighborhood social media pages to let me know. Thank you in advance.

The Appleton Common Council has a regularly scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday night, but it will likely be brief as we have very few committee recommendations from the Thanksgiving committee week to take care of. However, I was still busy during our scheduled council off week last week, and here are a couple of issues I'm currently working on behind the scenes:

  • Over the last year I've heard an increasing number of concerns regarding parking issues around USA Youth Soccer Complex on the days of tournaments and other large events. I'm currently working to set up a meeting between stakeholders on this issue (three city departments, myself, USA Youth Inc. and the Appleton Soccer Club) to discuss any changes that can be made to improve this situation before the season kicks off again in the spring. It's my understanding that this item will be on the USA Youth board meeting agenda on 12/21, so I'm hopeful we can get to work on this after the first of the new year.
  • Additionally, as part of my role as chair of the city's Safety & Licensing Committee, I've been asked to help with revisions and suggestions for an upcoming (and long-needed) update to the city's Towing Ordinances. Last week I met with two of our city attorneys and a representative from the Appleton Police Department to review and suggest potential changes to this proposal, which is scheduled to go before the committee next week.
No official action will be taken on either of these items this week. However, both items are likely to come up in future updates in the weeks and months to come.

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, November 21, 2016

What you may not know: Week of November 21

As you might expect, the City of Appleton has a relatively quiet committee week built around the Thanksgiving holiday. All of our normal Tuesday and Wednesday committee meetings are either cancelled or postponed this week due to the holiday and Tuesday night's Christmas parade. In addition, November is a five Wednesday month, so there are very few scheduled meetings next week on the week of the fifth Wednesday. As such, this is likely to be my final update until Monday, December 5.

With that said, there are still a couple of meetings scheduled for tonight with a couple of notable items on their agendas:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

This week the Plan Commission starts what should be an interesting task, reviewing proposed amendments to the first five chapters of the city's 2010-30 Comprehensive Plan. State statute requires the city to have a comprehensive plan that takes 14 goals into consideration:

  • Promotion of the redevelopment of lands with existing infrastructure and public services and the maintenance and rehabilitation of existing residential, commercial and industrial structures;
  • Encouragement of neighborhood designs that support a range of transportation choices; 
  • Protection of natural areas, including wetlands, wildlife habitats, lakes, woodlands, open spaces and groundwater resources; 
  • Protection of economically productive areas, including farmland and forests; 
  • Encouragement of land uses, densities and regulations that promote efficient development patterns and relatively low municipal, state governmental and utility costs; 
  • Preservation of cultural, historic and archaeological sites; 
  • Encouragement of coordination and cooperation among nearby units of government; 
  • Building of community identity by revitalizing main streets and enforcing design standards; 
  • Providing an adequate supply of affordable housing for individuals of all income levels throughout each community; 
  • Providing adequate infrastructure and public services and an adequate supply of developable land to meet existing and future market demand for residential, commercial and industrial uses; 
  • Promoting the expansion or stabilization of the current economic base and the creation of a range of employment opportunities at the state, regional and local levels; 
  • Balancing individual property rights with community interests and goals; 
  • Planning and development of land uses that create or preserve varied and unique urban and rural communities; and 
  • Providing an integrated, efficient and economical transportation system that affords mobility, convenience and safety and that meets the needs of all citizens, including transit dependent and disabled citizens. 
Long term planning can be a bit of a challenge for local governments, as the common council cannot take any action to bind future councils. As such, the decision to stick to any plan approved by a previous council will belong to whoever sits on the council at the time. With that said, the plan update contains a fair amount of information and recommended steps to take in the years ahead. I completed my review of the first five chapters on Friday and shared several notes on Twitter about items that stuck out to me.

Parks & Recreation, Monday, 6 pm

Later tonight, the Parks and Recreation Committee will be asked to make a recommendation on the 2017 rates for Reid Golf Course.

Reid Golf Course is a city-managed enterprise fund, meaning it stands apart from the city's general fund, receives no property tax dollars and is supposed to sustain itself with its own golf revenues. Its financial situation is currently stable but its long-term outlook is uncertain, and it still owes $155,000 on an interest-free general fund advance it borrowed from the city in 2002 and isn't scheduled to finish paying back until 2025.

The vast majority of the golf course's revenues are generated via greens fees, of course, and the golf course's challenging financial situation makes it extra important to find the perfect balance for rates that maximizes revenue without having a negative impact on demand. This year staff's recommendation for the rates includes no actual increase for most rounds, but a shift to publishing and advertising rates that include sales tax.

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, November 7, 2016

What you may not know: Week of November 7

Our normal committee week schedule will be derailed a bit this week by our adoption of the 2017 city budget, which is scheduled for Wednesday night at 6 pm. However, there's still a fair amount going on to talk about:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

A recent issue involving special assessments will lead to an interesting conversation this week on zoning.

Across the city, when properties are special assessed they're billed based on their zoning, which may or may not reflect their actual use. For example, the 200 block of N. Fair Street, which is near downtown, is zoned as commercial property (the city's intended future use for this space) but currently contains single family homes. The special assessment rates for commercial properties are much higher than single family properties.

Last week Alderman Bill Siebers submitted a resolution calling for that specific group of properties to be rezoned to reflect their current use, and for staff to locate any properties across the city that may be in similar situations for further consideration for rezoning.

There's a lot to unpack as we discuss the specific and general topic of zoning and whether it should reflect the present or future planned use of spaces. I'm looking forward to this discussion.

Board of Health, Wednesday, 7 am

A frequently-discussed issue is back on a committee agenda this week as the Board of Health will meet on Wednesday morning to discuss the possibility of allowing chickens in the city.

This is a very polarizing topic for people, and I've received a fair amount of contact from residents on both sides of it. I also have some firsthand experience with this issue, as I used to live in a city that allowed residents to keep hens. It's been my experience that urban chickens, if properly regulated, do not cause major issues. Proper regulation includes limiting urban chickens to hens (no roosters), placing a limit on the number of chickens on a city lot and requiring bedding be regularly changed out to avoid odor issues. If those requirements are met, you're probably more likely to experience issues with your neighbor's dog or leaf blower than their chickens.

I'm sure we'll see extended debate on this issue on Wednesday morning, and I'd be surprised if that's the last time.

City budget adoption, Wednesday, 6 pm

Finally, the week's (and perhaps the year's) main event.

Wednesday is the final opportunity for alderpersons to make amendments to the 2017 Appleton City Budget before it is officially adopted. City staff asked for proposed amendments to be submitted in writing by Thursday afternoon, which was a pretty tight window given that the budget public hearing was only held on Wednesday night. Last I had heard, no amendments were submitted prior to that deadline. The entire budget is open for discussion on Wednesday night, however, and I do expect amendments to be proposed during that debate.

Personally, this year I have one budget amendment to propose, and I've already sent my apologies to staff for submitting it after the deadline. It covers the following:

  • Eliminating $8900 in rent the city pays to Reid Golf Course for usage of the facility for winter programs. Reid Golf Course still owes the city's general fund $155,000 on an interest-free loan from 2002, so I've asked for the rent to be applied to that debt instead of paid to the Golf Course Fund.
  • Reducing the Common Council's Training and Conferences budget by $554.
  • Funding a request from the Police Department to purchase ten additional body-worn cameras for police officers at a cost of $9454.
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, October 31, 2016

What you may not know: Week of October 31

Before I get to the update, I'd like to remind you again that early voting continues in the City of Appleton. Voting will be open for Appleton residents at the City Clerk's office on the 6th floor of 100 N Appleton St from 8 am-4:30 pm each weekday this week. I'll be there helping out this afternoon. Tuesday afternoon, Thursday morning and Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, this time of year the budget is the primary focus of the City of Appleton's Common Council. Here's a quick breakdown of what's taken place recently:

  • On Friday, October 21 I finished my review of the budget and pre-submitted 64 questions via emails to department heads. 
  • On Saturday the Finance Committee met for six and a half hours to go department-by-department through the 668-page 2017 budget. This was the committee's first opportunity to make amendments to the budget, but none were made at this time. I did get an opportunity to remove a lot of post-it tabs from my budget book.
That brings us to this week:

Budget Public Hearing, Wednesday, 6 pm

Each year before our first scheduled common council meeting in November we open up the floor for members of the public to comment on the next year's budget. There is no specific agenda for this discussion, just an open opportunity for members of the public to share their views with the full council present. Aside from this public hearing, no official action will be taken on the budget this week.

From here, the next steps are as follows:
  • As a courtesy to staff and fellow alderpersons, any member of the council wishing to make amendments to the 2017 budget is asked to submit them in writing by Thursday.
  • The city will adopt the 2017 budget at a special meeting at 6 pm on Wednesday, November 9. This is the last chance to make amendments before the budget is finalized.
At 7 pm Wednesday or shortly following the conclusion of the public hearing, council will also hold our regularly scheduled meeting. Here are a couple of items of interest on that agenda:

Intergovernmental short term loans

For many years now the City and the Appleton Area School District have had intergovernmental agreements to address working cash challenges throughout the year via short-term loans. The cash flows and needs of the city and schools fluctuate throughout the year, sometimes leaving one short on working capital while the other has the capacity to briefly make a loan.

Last week the Finance Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of another intergovernmental agreement for the next year to continue this practice. The amount of the loans is capped at $14.5 million, must be paid off no later than June 30, 2017 and the interest rate would be set at 2% above the average Federal Funds Rate for the duration of the loan.

This is another example of the value of having good working relationships with other local governments. We both have the opportunity to help each other and save the other from having to pursue more expensive or difficult means to meet short-term working capital needs.

2017 Community Block Grant allocations

In recent updates I've mentioned ongoing work to plan for and allocate $528,000 in anticipated awards from the federal government's Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of their Community Development Block Grant program. That work continues this week as council will be asked to decide on how to divide $137,586 among 13 community partner organizations that have applied.

Last week the Community and Economic Development Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of the recommendation of a six-member advisory board. Those recommendations were as follows:
  • The Mooring Programs, Inc would receive $36,213 of their requested $62,200 to rehabilitate housing units for residential treatment services for individuals with substance abuse disorders.
  • Salvation Army Fox Cities would receive $22,173 of their requested $38,079 towards a roof replacement project at a building associated with their food pantry.
  • STEP Industries would receive $15,000 of their requested $37,300 to support vocational and support services to individuals recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.
  • Harbor House would receive $15,000 of their requested $27,500 to support counseling and advocacy staff work with women and children affected by domestic violence.
  • LEAVEN would receive $15,000 of their requested $25,000 to provide rental assistance to those at risk of homelessness.
  • Homeless Connections would receive $14,200 of their requested $20,000 to support staff positions and assist with utility bills.
  • NAMI would receive $10,000 of their requested $26,190 to support a Peer Specialist Training Program.
  • Fox Valley Warming Shelter would receive $10,000 of their requested $20,000 to support staff positions at their facility.
Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity, Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities, Compassionate Home Health Care, Goodwill Industries of Northeast Wisconsin and St. Vincent de Paul Society of Appleton all also requested grants but would not receive any money under the current recommendation.

As I mentioned above, the $528,000 figure is an estimate for the city's 2017 CDBG award, and any or all of these numbers could be adjusted next year to accommodate any difference between the anticipated award and the actual money received. For now, though, this provides a framework for grant funding for the year ahead.

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, October 17, 2016

What you may not know: Week of October 17

I have been traveling for business these last few days (and won't be home until sometime Monday evening at the earliest), so I apologize if anyone has been attempting to reach me and has been unable to.

In the meantime, early voting starts today in the City of Appleton. Voting will be open for Appleton residents at the City Clerk's office on the 6th floor of 100 N Appleton St from 8 am-4:30 pm each weekday between now and November 4. If you come on the right day you may even see me there: I'm spending about 28 hours as an election volunteer over the next three weeks.

This week we also have our regularly-scheduled council meeting on Wednesday night. Here are updates on items that went before committees last week and are on our agenda this week:

  • Last Monday the Human Resources Committee voted 5-0 to recommend approval of a new contract with the union employees at Valley Transit. The new agreement calls for a 2% increase in wages across the board and moves Transit employees closer to the non-represented standard for dental and health insurance coverage.
  • Also at that meeting the committee voted 4-1 to recommend council salaries increase 2.5% in April of 2018. That would raise the annual rate to $6129.50 two years from now. I don't know that a 2.5% increase (or any feasible increase, really) will address the issues I mentioned last week, but I'm encouraged to see the committee taking a step in the right direction.
  • On Tuesday the Utilities Committee voted 4-0 to recommend approval of a wet stormwater pond to address flooding issues near Perkins Street. If approved, that project could happen in 2017.
  • Also on Tuesday, the Municipal Services Committee voted unanimously to support a county recommendation to reduce the speed limit on County Highway JJ between Lightning Drive and French Road to 45 miles per hour.
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, October 10, 2016

What you may not know: Week of October 10

While the 2017 budget process remains at the forefront of everyone's minds, the Appleton Common Council also has the following notable items scheduled to come before committees this week:

Human Resources/Information Technology Committee, Monday, 5 pm

This week the HR/IT Committee will be asked to make a recommendation on a tentative agreement for a new one-year contract with with the Teamsters-represented employees at Valley Transit. The contract calls for a 2% increase in wages across all represented positions. The city and Valley Transit's other municipal funding partners would recoup some of that expense by moving Transit's employees onto or closer to the insurance plans the city currently provides to non-represented employees.

All of this needs to be considered in light of current economic conditions: Upturns in the local economy have made it increasingly difficult for Valley Transit to fill vacant driver positions. I don't know if a 2% pay increase will help with that issue, but wage competitiveness during times of economic growth is a challenge we have to be cognizant of.

Speaking of wages, the committee will also be asked to make a recommendation regarding aldermanic salaries for the year following the April 2018 elections. These decisions are made well in advance so no member of the council is voting on their own salary: By the time this change goes into effect we'll all have faced re-election and our seats could potentially have turned over at least once.

The current aldermanic salary is $5921 per year, and is scheduled to increase to $5980 in April of 2017. Alderpersons also have the option of receiving a parking pass for the city's Blue Ramp (which I have declined).That 1% increase in 2017 will only be the fourth raise alderpersons have received since 2001.

The low salary of this position creates a very real accessibility issue. While the workload related to being an alderperson varies from week to week and season to season, the simple action of attending assigned meetings occupies somewhere between 3-6 evenings every two weeks. Most alderpersons would make more money if they spent those evenings working somewhere for minimum wage or tending bar. And, of course, attending meetings isn't the only responsibility of this position. That's never more apparent than it is in October, when we're asked to review and make revisions to a 660-page city budget.

The wellbeing of our city, short and long-term, requires qualified candidates to be able to serve their community in this way. Our current low salary creates a barrier to entry for anyone who may wish to serve but cannot afford to donate their time.

Utilities Committee, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

On Tuesday the Utilities Committee will be asked to recommend approval of a significant stormwater project to reduce flooding issues near businesses on the city's southwest side.

In May the city awarded a contract to RA Smith National to evaluate opportunities to eliminate runoff from Cotter and Haskell streets that was flowing under a building along Perkins Street. RA Smith looked at ten possibilities to address the issue and staff is recommending the city pursue "Alternative G," which calls for the construction of a wet stormwater pond at a cost of $426,000. This project also appears in the 2017 city budget .

Some of the area impacted by the current flooding and the potential stormwater pond is currently undeveloped. The evaluation and alternative both take into account that the property is expected to be developed someday, and will likely make it easier to do so. As such, addressing this problem completely and soon will help raise the city's tax base sooner rather than later.

Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

The Municipal Services Committee agenda for Tuesday night includes an action item of specific interest to many of my neighbors in the 13th district: The speed limit along County Highway JJ.

Over my nearly four years as an alderman I've received a great deal of concerned phone calls and emails regarding the speed of traffic along Highway JJ as it passes North High School, a day care and the backs of many houses. The county has recently proposed a speed limit change from 55 to 45 miles per hour along the portion of the highway between Lightning Drive and French Road. This probably isn't as slow as many would like but it does reflect a significant improvement from the current situation.

Of course, County Highway JJ is a county highway, and as such Outagamie County has jurisdiction over the speed limit and will make the final decision. With that said, this week the committee has the opportunity to publicly support a change and I'm hopeful they'll do so.

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.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What you may not know: Week of October 3

The Common Council will hold our regularly scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday night, but odds are the day's biggest news will be sitting on our desk when we get there. The City of Appleton's 2017 budget is expected to be printed and distributed to members of council this week, at which point it will largely dominate schedules and conversations for the rest of the month.

I haven't seen this budget book yet, but each of the previous years' have been over 600 pages. Our window to review it is relatively brief, as our all day "Budget Saturday" Finance Committee meeting is scheduled for October 29 and I have made it a practice to have the first round of my budget questions (usually dozens of them) to department heads early in the week leading up to that.

This year's budget schedule is as follows:
  • Wednesday: Council receives the mayor's budget proposal.
  • Weeks of October 10 and 24: Individual department budgets appear as action items on committee agendas.
  • Saturday, October 29: The Finance Committee (with most or all of council present) meets all day to go over the budget. This is the first opportunity for amendments.
  • Wednesday, November 2: Council holds a public hearing on the budget.
  • Wednesday, November 9: Final amendments and budget adoption.
Between now and November 9 I anticipate taking the budget with me almost everywhere, including onto half a dozen airplanes. Oversight of the budget is almost certainly the single largest responsibility in this job, and doing it well requires making it a near full-time commitment this time of year.

Of course, in the meantime we also have a council agenda to take care of this week. Here are updates on the items I brought up last week:

  • The Parks & Recreation Committee voted 3-0 to recommend approval of modifications to the city's Recreation Program Fee Waiver Policy, after making an amendment to remove some of the potentially challenging language requiring a parent to have majority custody of a child to be eligible for family benefits. My concerns on this matter are now resolved and I expect it to pass without much issue.
  • The Municipal Services Committee voted 3-0 to recommend approval of a reconstruction design for Mary Street that will narrow the street on the west side to save four trees, but remove parking along the east side of the street.
  • The Community and Economic Development Committee voted 5-0 to recommend approval of the city's portion of the anticipated 2017 Community Development Block Grant funding, including the aforementioned $200,000 that had been proposed for property acquisition towards a possible "small home" community. At that meeting the clarification was made that the money is towards an affordable housing project and while small homes are one option for that project, other options will be considered. I expect there to be more conversation on small homes at a later date.
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.