Monday, February 20, 2017

What you may not know: Week of February 20

Before I get to this week's (relatively light) list of council updates, please allow me to remind you that the spring primary election is tomorrow (Tuesday, February 21). The State of Wisconsin has a primary for Superintendent of Public Instruction. In addition, voters in Appleton's ninth district will have three candidates on the ballot for their aldermanic seat.

If you live in Appleton's 13th district you can vote at Faith Lutheran Church at 3100 E Evergreen Drive. If you don't know your district or your polling location, you can find it at this link.

Our schedule is moved around a bit this week to accommodate the election, but it is still a committee week for the Appleton Common Council. Here are some of the items I'll be watching:

Human Resources and Information Technology Committee, Monday, 5 pm

This week the Human Resources Department is bringing forward three requests to alter the Tables of Organization of city departments:

  • The Police Department has a multiple-part request involving oversight of their Administrative Services division. The change would eliminate some redundancies and overlap in responsibilities, and consolidate related activities under one supervisor.
  • The Fire Department is currently reevaluating their management structure following the recent retirement of their longtime Deputy Chief, and has a request calling for two Battalion Chief positions to be merged, a new Civilian Training and Resource Development position to be created and a shift in the balance of Captain/Lieutenant positions from 8/13 to 6/15.
  • Valley Transit is requesting permission to shift their part-time driver positions from four established positions to a variable amount of positions depending on need.
None of these moves have major budget ramifications or will result in major changes in service, but I applaud all three departments for working to find opportunities to perform their work more efficiently and effectively with the resources they have. Taking advantage of opportunities like this to streamline and find efficiencies isn't always noticed but it pays off in the long run.

Municipal Services Committee, Thursday, 5:30 pm 

Given our recent trend of warm temperatures, most of us probably aren't thinking about snow. This week, however, the Municipal Services Committee will be asked to consider a change to the city's stance regarding snow removal. 

Currently, the city's snow removal ordinance requires snow to be removed from sidewalks, handicap ramps and driveway aprons within 36 hours following a snow event. Staff is proposing a change to the ordinance to remove driveway aprons from that requirement.

I'll be curious to hear the discussion on this item: Driveway aprons are typically part of the street right-of-way (city property), so a city decision to allow them to remain uncleared could create some risk of liability in the event that someone slips and suffers an injury.

In addition, this week the committee is expected to discuss new sidewalks that could be installed along Northland Avenue as part of this summer's project to reconstruct the Northland/Richmond Street intersection. I don't have a lot of details on the proposal at this time but I'm looking forward to learning more. 

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

What you may not know: Week of February 5

First off, my apologies for missing last week's update: I was sick and had all I could handle balancing that and other responsibilities.

This is the first committee week in February for the Appleton Common Council, and here are the highlights from a light week of agendas:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm:

For the last several meetings now the City Plan Commission has been conducting a chapter-by-chapter review and update of the City's Comprehensive Plan, which contains goals and aspirations for every city department and was completed in 2010. This week the Commission will be asked to approve all of the chapters we've reviewed to this point, allowing us to make any necessary amendments before sending a recommendation to council for their meeting next week.

To date the commission has reviewed updates to 14 chapters, including:

  • Community Vision
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Utilities and Facilities
  • Natural, Historic and Cultural Resources
  • Economic Development 
  • Land Use
  • Planning for the downtown corridor
  • Parks & Recreation
This process hasn't drawn a lot of attention, but the Comprehensive Plan is something that's referred to and discussed frequently in deliberations on a variety of important city decisions. While nothing in this plan is binding for future councils, it is a framework for the future of our community.

Board of Health, Wednesday, 7 am:

On Wednesday, for the fifth consecutive month, a resolution calling for Appleton to allow the keeping of urban chickens will appear before the Board of Health as an information item and no official action is expected.

Over the course of several discussions on this topic it's become pretty clear that there's a diverse array of opinions on chickens among the board members (including two council members and the mayor). To date issues that have become challenging for the board have been neighbor notification/approval and the application fee structure.

While I appreciate the efforts the board has made to give this item a fair and thorough discussion, at this point I'm just hoping they make a recommendation, any recommendation, so this item can move on and be discussed and voted upon at council. That's not expected to happen this month, so the earliest the board could vote on it at this point is Wednesday, March 8.

Fox Cities Transit Commission, Wednesday, 3 pm:

A few hours later on Wednesday, the Transit Commission will meet to take a very long overdue step to help Valley Transit continue to provide reliable transportation services across the community in the years to come.

VT's maintenance staff has done remarkable work in recent years to keep buses running while working with a rapidly aging and deteriorating fleet, which includes buses that were purchased in the 1990's and have logged over one million miles. For some time now we've been engaged in a process to purchase new buses, which has included the following:
  • Applying for and waiting for approval of federal funds for their share of capital projects.
  • Budgeting the local share of a bus purchase with funds collected from all of VT's member communities.
  • Determining how best to allocate the funds available to make the most and highest quality improvements to the fleet.
  • Locating a larger transit organization making a bus purchase that will allow us to "add on" to their purchase to ensure availability of buses at a reasonable price.
Two weeks ago the Transit Commission learned that staff had located an organization to work with, and this week the Commission will be asked to approve the purchase of three buses. This isn't a cure-all for everything ailing an organization that faces many challenges, but it is a step in the right direction.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, January 23, 2017

What you may not know: Week of January 23

It's a busy committee week for the Appleton Common Council, so let's get right to the highlights:

Parks and Recreation, Monday, 6 pm:

Through the winter the Parks & Recreation Committee has been receiving biweekly updates on the construction progress at Erb Park and Pool. This week they'll be asked to make a recommendation on a pair of updated pool policies that, among other things, establish new fees for usage of that facility.

The facility rental fees for Appleton pools have not been updated since 2013, and here is the redlined table showing the proposed modifications:
Pool admission fees for Appleton pools have not been updated since 2011. The proposal before the committee calls for daily fees to remain the same at Mead and West Pools ($3.50/day for adult open swim, $2.50 for youth and seniors) but calls for a $1 across the board increase for users at the new Erb Pool ($4/day for adults and $3 for youth and seniors).

Additionally, this revision calls for a $5 increase in the cost of pool punchcards and increases in price for annual swim passes.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

Two weeks ago I mentioned that the Municipal Services Committee was being asked to make a recommendation on a proposal calling for the end of free parking in city-owned ramps during snow emergencies, a change largely proposed in response to challenges allowing that practice with the city's new "pay on exit" parking ramp structure. That meeting was later cancelled due to weather, so the item now appears on their agenda again this week.

In addition, this week the committee will be asked to make a recommendation on city staff's requests to remove two sets of traffic signals along Franklin Street, at its intersections with Superior and Oneida streets. The city's recent downtown mobility study found these lights to be unnecessary, and if you've passed by them recently you may have noticed signs stating that they were being considered for removal, and that the lights had been set to flash to simulate a two-way stop.

After trying it this way for 90 days we have seen no accidents and received no complaints, so staff is recommending council proceed with an ordinance change to remove the fixtures.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, January 16, 2017

What you may not know: Week of January 16

The Appleton Common Council has a regularly-scheduled council meeting this Wednesday at 7 pm. Due to last week's inclement weather on Tuesday, however, we have a bit of business to take care of first:

Finance Committee, Wednesday, 6 pm

The Finance Committee had to cancel our regularly scheduled meeting last week and will instead meet before council this week to take up an item I mentioned in last week's update: A proposed agreement to purchase four fire trucks over the next four years from Pierce Manufacturing in a package deal. The Safety & Licensing Committee recommended this item for approval on a 4-0 vote at our meeting on Wednesday.

One of the challenges in entering into a long-term agreement like this as a city is our budgeting process: Our budgets are set annually and council cannot "bind" future councils to make a decision a certain way in years ahead. As such, council cannot actually commit to purchase trucks beyond the current budget year, discount or no discount, as the decision to actually pay for them rests in the hands of (potentially) future holders of our offices. At Safety & Licensing the agreement was clarified a bit: While this is a tentative agreement to purchase four vehicles at an established price, the city does have the ability to back out of the deal without penalty if the council should decide at any point that we cannot or do not wish to make that year's purchase.

Assuming the committee meets as scheduled and makes a recommendation on this item, it will go before the full council later in the evening.

Fair Street Update

Another item on the council agenda for Wednesday night is Alderman Siebers' resolution calling for rezoning of seven properties at the south end of Fair Street, where it dead ends between Franklin Street and College Avenue. His resolution was recommended for denial by a 6-0 vote at the City Plan Commission last week.

The heart of this dispute is a question about how these properties should have been assessed for recent utility work. The properties in question are single-family homes but several of them are on property zoned Central Business District (CBD), and properties carrying that zoning pay a larger portion of the cost for utility reconstruction. Regardless of how council decides to handle the recommendation regarding this resolution, we'll still have to take a second action at a later date in regards to their request to make an exception to the Special Assessment Policy. That request is scheduled to go before the Finance Committee next week.

This step remains important, though, as an indication that the properties are correctly zoned and were not overcharged in error. With that piece of information in hand, we can proceed with the latter request with more knowledge to work from.

Meanwhile, here are a pair of updates on items I mentioned last week that do not appear on this week's council agenda and will not be acted upon:

  • Tuesday's cancellation of the Municipal Services Committee meeting meant the committee did not get a chance to make a recommendation on a proposed change to the city's parking ramp policies removing free parking during snow emergencies. The committee will hold a special meeting this week but this item is not on their agenda and will likely be discussed at their next regularly-scheduled meeting on January 24.
  • Additionally, time constraints (the meeting is at 7 am and many of the volunteer members need to leave by 8 am to get to work) and another contentious item meant the Board of Health did not have much time to discuss a resolution regarding urban chickens at their meeting last Wednesday. I'm becoming concerned with this process: The Board only meets once monthly and has received presentations and discussions at four meetings now but still has not taken action on this item and will likely only have an informational discussion at their next scheduled meeting on Wednesday, February 8. If they don't take action at their next meeting, this item will have been under their jurisdiction for six months.
Again, no action will be taken on the previous two items this week.

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, January 9, 2017

What you may not know: Week of January 9

It's going to be a busy committee week for the Appleton Common Council. Here are some of the things on our agendas:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4:00 pm

On Monday afternoon the plan commission will be asked to weigh in on an issue that could set significant precedent for the future of special assessments and zoning in the city. In an effort to avoid spending 1000 words on the background, here are the bullet points:
  • The south end of N. Fair Street, a dead-end street extending off of W. Franklin downtown, received new utility infrastructure in 2016 and received special assessments for said work.
  • The properties along this portion of Fair Street are single-family homes, but the zoning for the properties are either Central Business District (CBD) or multifamily (R3), which is also reflected in the city's long-term plans for future development in this area.
  • Because special assessment rates are calculated due to property zoning and not actual use, the property owners along Fair Street were assessed at the CBD or R3 (higher) rates, instead of what single family properties on single family-zoned properties would have been charged.
Alderman Bill Siebers, who represents these properties, submitted a resolution in October calling for these properties to be rezoned to reflect their current use and also requested that their special assessments be retroactively adjusted to reflect single family zoning.

Today the Plan Commission will be asked to make a recommendation on the first of those two items, the zoning of the property. It's going to be an interesting discussion on the merits of zoning based on future intended use as compared to current usage.

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

I believe I've written previously about some of the budget challenges created by previous purchasing decisions related to fire trucks. Our current fleet of trucks were mostly purchased around the same point in time, meaning they're all scheduled to come up for replacement in the same window. The city is currently scheduled to purchase "pumper" trucks in 2017, 2018 and 2019 in addition to a larger "reserve pumper" in 2020. The three pumpers currently cost around $625,000 each and the reserve pumper is closer to $800,000. 

This week both the Finance and Safety & Licensing Committees will be asked to make a recommendation on a request to order four trucks from Pierce Manufacturing to be delivered over the next four years. The prices would be set this year but subject to a 3% "Producer Price Index" increase each year. Even with that increase, packaging the four vehicles together would save the city around $80,000 as compared to purchasing the four separately.

I sit on both the Finance and Safety & Licensing Committees and will be interested to hear more about this agreement in both venues.

Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

In 2016 the City of Appleton made a major change to our parking ramps, removing the previous flat-rate, pay-on-entry ramp parking fees and moving instead to a pay-on-exit, time-based ramp fee structure. On Tuesday the Municipal Services Committee will be asked to weigh in on the ramifications of one of that change's consequences.

In previous years it has been city policy to open the ramps up free of charge for parking during snow emergencies, to provide safe sheltered parking for downtown users while also keeping as many vehicles as possible off of the sides of the roads during snow removal. Unfortunately, our new fee structure makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to continue that practice. 

Staff is asking for the committee and council to approve the elimination of the Snow Emergency Ramp Parking Policy. If that happens, free parking in the ramp during snow emergencies would be eliminated and anyone planning to use the ramps in that situation would either have to pay for parking or find another alternative.

Board of Health, Wednesday, 7 am

For the third consecutive month the Board of Health has an information item on their agenda regarding the possibility of allowing chickens in the city. This month there is some hope that they will discuss the possible fee structure for initial inspection and ongoing licensing of properties with chickens. 

As has been the case in each of the last two months, this item is information-only and no official action will be taken. The earliest this item could come before the board for action is now Wednesday, February 8.

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, December 19, 2016

What you may not know: Week of December 19

With the Christmas holiday rapidly approaching and a likely light schedule for the Appleton Common Council for the committee week between Christmas and New Year's Day, this is likely my last update of 2016. Let's start off with a couple of updates on items from last week:

Police Union Contract

Last week the Human Resources and Information Technology Department voted unanimously to approve a new three-year labor contract with the Police Professional Association calling for 2.5% in total raises in 2017 and 2018 (with each year's increase broken into two parts) and 2% in 2019. Assuming council approves this measure, the city should be done negotiating labor contracts for a couple of years.

Updated Towing Ordinance

Last week the Safety & Licensing Committee voted 5-0 to recommend approval of changes to the city's ordinances regarding the "next wrecker up" list used to select towing companies called when a vehicle needs to be towed and the owner either expresses no company preference or is unable to express a preference.

The updated ordinance contains language setting maximum fees that can be charged for towing services, with the goal of creating some level of uniformity in fees among city-generated towing calls. It also establishes a consistent set of office hours for owners of towed vehicles to retrieve their vehicles and/or belongings, and provides a better set of procedures for the city in the event a towing company has to be suspended and/or removed from the list.

Parks and Recreation Reciprocity Agreements

This item is unlikely to be controversial, but I wanted to highlight another extension to a longstanding cooperation agreement with our neighboring communities that helps us all serve our constituents better.

For over 15 years now the City of Appleton has had reciprocity agreements with the cities of Menasha and Neenah regarding our Parks and Recreation programming. This allows residents of all three cities to use each other's pools, recreation programming and boat launches and reserve park pavilions for events at the resident fee. Last week Appleton's Parks and Recreation Committee voted unanimously to extend both of these agreements for five more years, ensuring cooperation through 2021.

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.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

What you may not know: Week of December 12

First of all, thanks to everyone that has reached out over the last week to offer to sign my nomination petition to help me get back on the ballot to continue to represent the 13th district in the spring elections. I'm happy to report that I've received all of the signatures I needed and turned in my nomination petition on Friday morning.

Meanwhile, due to scheduling issues around the budget season and Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, this week is the only completely uninterrupted committee week on the Appleton Common Council calendar in the months of November and December. As such, we've got a great deal to cover on several busy agendas. Here are some of this week's highlights:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the City Plan Commission (which includes one representative from the Common Council, the Mayor, a representative of the Department of Public Works and four citizen members) has been given the opportunity to be the first body to review the updates to the city's strategic plan. This week we have our second review session scheduled and we'll be discussing the following chapters:

  • Transportation
  • Utilities and Community Facilities
  • Agriculture and Natural, Historic and Cultural Resources
  • Economic Development
I didn't live-tweet my pre-reading of the chapters this time, but I did scribble down a couple of interesting notes from my homework:
  • A theory that a reduction in on-street parking and our city requirements for business parking may be depressing the value and development opportunities for properties along portions of Wisconsin Avenue and Richmond Street.
  • A note that Appleton International Airport has grown from 28 acres in 1965 to 1,697 acres today.
The discussions surrounding the strategic plan have been a tremendous opportunity to gather a full overview of the state of the city, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to be a part of them.

Human Resources & Information Technology Committee, Monday, 5 pm

Among the items on this committee's agenda on Monday is a request to recommend approval of the city's new three-year union contract with the Police Professional Association.. The tentative agreement includes 2.5% in total raises in 2017, 2.5% in 2018 and 2% in 2019, with each year's increases broken down into two separate bumps during the calendar year. 

While Act 10 has greatly decreased the number of union positions in municipal government, the city still has three active unions: Police, Fire and Valley Transit. If this deal is approved by the committee and council, all three will have reached agreements on new contracts this year.

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

I strongly suspect that a proposed ordinance to allow members of the council to attend meetings electronically is the council's longest-standing active item at this point: The resolution was originally proposed in June of 2015 and has been held ever since as staff and alderpersons have worked together to test and improve technology in the council chambers to ensure that alderpersons attending meetings electronically will be able to effectively follow and participate in discussion and remotely attending alderpersons' participation in the meeting will be able to be accurately recorded as part of meeting video.

The item is back on the Finance Committee's agenda on Tuesday and I look forward to hearing what, if anything, has changed to bring this item back to our attention.

Board of Health, Wednesday, 7 am

For the second consecutive month the Board of Health will again discuss the possibilities of allowing a limited number of chickens on residential properties within the city. I mentioned this item when it came before the board last month. This month it is again only being discussed as an informational item, but the discussion will include drafted regulations for how chicken keeping in the city could work and a draft of the proposed application.

Again, this week's discussion is information only, and the Board will not take official action on this item until, at the earliest, their meeting in January.

Safety & Licensing Committee, Wednesday, 6 pm

On Wednesday night the Safety & Licensing Committee will be asked to make a recommendation on proposed changes to the city's towing ordinance. I mentioned some of the work being done behind the scenes on this issue in my previous update.

The city currently maintains a rotating list of towing companies which they call when the Police Department needs to move a citizen vehicle, frequently following an accident or arrest. The vehicle is towed by the next towing company up on the rotating list, and billed by that company.

Issues with our existing towing ordinance, however, have led to inconsistencies in what customers may be charged for similar towing operations and/or differences in the hours a towing company may be open to allow them to retrieve their vehicle or items locked inside. Additionally, the current ordinance isn't always clear regarding what types of infractions can lead to removal or suspension from the list and how a revocation can be appealed.

Over the last several months our city attorneys and the Police Department have done a great deal of work to overhaul this ordinance and create a more consistent practice. The ordinance changes are being presented to the towing companies at their mandatory meeting with the Police Department this week, will come before the committee on Wednesday and could be approved by the Common Council as soon as next week.

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.