Monday, March 20, 2017

What you may not know: Week of March 20

The Appleton Common Council has a busy committee week ahead but, before I get to that, here's an update the item that's capturing everyone's attention recently:

Urban chickens

In my four years on the Appleton Common Council, it's possible there's never been more confusion about the meaning of an outcome of a vote than there has been over the last few days. Here's a quick rundown of the last few months as they pertain to a resolution calling for Appleton to allow the keeping of up to four chickens on residential property:

  • Last fall Alderperson Meltzer submitted the resolution and it was referred to the City's Board of Health, who discussed it at several meetings before finally taking a vote on it at their March meeting. Their vote was split 3-3. Because a majority is required for the board to take any affirmative action, the item was sent along to council as a recommendation for denial.
  • Last week the council met with 14 members present and one absent and the vote on the resolution was also split, 7-7 this time. At council when a vote is tied the mayor is asked to break ties. Mayor Hanna voted in favor and the resolution passed.
  • However, any alderperson on the prevailing side of a vote or any alderperson who was absent for a vote has the ability to ask council to reconsider the vote at their next meeting. In this case the absent alderperson was Council President Kathleen Plank, whose vote would have decided the outcome. Our next council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 5 and it seems likely that we'll be voting on this resolution again at that meeting.
So, to sum up: The resolution calling for chickens to be allowed in the city passed, but could be reopened. It's not legal to run out and get chickens or apply for a permit to have chickens just yet, and no official action will be taken on this item this week or next.

Now, with that update out of the way, here are some items that are on committee agendas this week:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

The latest proposed expansion of development north of County Highway JJ will likely take another step forward this week as the City Plan Commission will be asked to recommend approval of a rezoning request that would make eleven new single-family lots in the Emerald Valley subdivision, which is largely between Providence Avenue and French Road and north of JJ. This is the third addition to the subdivision, which was originally platted in 2005.

This addition to the subdivision is relatively small and unlikely to be controversial but it serves as another reminder that this area, which was almost completely unpopulated about a decade ago, continues to grow and our city services and infrastructure need to be continually updated to meet expanding demand. This will probably not be the last or largest addition to this subdivision, as the developers still own significantly more undeveloped land to the west of this area.

Human Resources Committee, Monday, 5 pm

The city is now closing in on a year without a Diversity Coordinator, as the previous holder of the position resigned last summer. The search for someone to fill this important and difficult to define role has hit a few challenges along the way but could take a step forward this week when the Human Resources and Information Technology position will again be asked to make a recommendation on a request to move the position from its current home in the Community and Economic Development Department to the mayor's office. This item was held at the committee level two weeks ago.

The suggested move comes with an amended job description (which you can see as an attachment here) and a likely but not finalized shift in pay scale to compensate for an increased scope of responsibilities. If this passes the search for candidates would be reopened.

Diversity, you may realize, is a remarkably broad topic to attempt to address with one position. Attempting to define the role of this position is a challenge but I think what we have here is a positive step in the effort to do so. I'm hopeful this item will move along this week and we can resume the process of trying to get a great applicant to fill this role.

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

As I've discussed previously, Reid Golf Course is an enterprise fund operated by the City of Appleton that is, in concept, supposed to be revenue-neutral and run without support from general fund (property tax) dollars. In 2002 the course was struggling financially and the Common Council voted to give the fund an advance from general fund dollars. Council later also voted to make that advance interest-free. As a result, Reid Golf Course still owes the city $155,000 in general fund dollars and all but $15,000 of that amount isn't expected to be repaid until 2025 at the earliest. In addition, the course owes $575,000 in principal on a bond issuance from 2012.

Three weeks ago Alderman Jeff Jirschele proposed a resolution calling for the city to forgive that loan to the enterprise fund and take on Reid's debt as its own. Two weeks ago the Finance Committee elected to hold that resolution, and it will appear on their agenda this week.

I'm curious to hear debate on this issue, but I'm strongly opposed to any effort that would call for tax dollars to subsidize a golf course, either via a direct contribution or by shifting the burden of the fund's debt to the taxpayers. We have many priorities as a city that should far and away outrank this one.

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.

Finally, a quick programming note: The month of March has five Wednesdays, and the council typically does not schedule meetings for the week of a fifth Wednesday of the month. As such, there are no scheduled committee or council meetings next week and so I will likely not post an update next week. Look for my next post on the week of Monday, April 3.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What you may not know: Week of March 13

The Appleton Common Council is likely to have a very busy regularly scheduled-meeting on Wednesday night, in addition to a rescheduled committee meeting:

Municipal Services Committee, Wednesday, 6 pm

The agenda for this week's rescheduled Municipal Services Committee meeting contains an information item that will be of local interest for many residents of the 13th district: The tentative schedule for this summer's reconstruction of County Highway JJ between French Road and Ballard Road.

This is a county project, so the city does not have approval over the schedule. They have, however, provided us with the following estimates:
  • From now through early April there are likely to be daytime restrictions on Highway JJ as utilities are relocated to make way for the project.
  • From early April through early May the focus will be on "Stage 1" of the project, which is a stormwater pond at the northeast corner of JJ and Lightning Drive. Daytime restrictions on JJ are listed as "possible" during this window.
  • In early May, the county will close the intersection of JJ and Lightning to reconstruct it and its approaches. JJ traffic will be detoured back out to Highway 41 via Ballard Road and County Highway N. The north entrance/exit to North High School will remain open.
  • On June 8 the remaining portion of JJ (from the school driveway to Ballard Road) will be closed, and no access to any abutting properties off of Highway JJ will be available.
  • All roadways are expected to be reopened for the Labor Day weekend and first day of school in September.
As always, all of these timelines are tentative and depend on a variety of factors.

Speaking of estimated timelines, at 7 pm or as soon as is feasible following the conclusion of the aforementioned committee meeting the common council will hold our regularly-scheduled meeting to discuss topics including the following:

Urban chickens

After several months of discussion, last week the Board of Health finally voted on a resolution calling for Appleton to allow residents to have up to four hens on their property, and they split a 3-3 vote. The item comes to council this week as a recommendation for denial, but council will have the final word on this issue.

I've heard from folks on both sides of this issue, but for me there are two notable points here: precedent and policy.
  • On the precedent side, I would point to the variety of cities (93 of the top 100 US cities and six of the eight largest cities in Wisconsin) that currently allow the keeping of hens. There are countless examples of cities that have taken this step and have not experienced issues with it. Green Bay and Oshkosh both allow chickens. The two cities have issued a combined 82 licenses and have never had to revoke one.
  • On the policy side, staff has made a very clear effort to create a proposed policy that would be in place to address any concerns that may come up, including noise, smell, rodents, predators, disease, escape and manure disposal. Every effort has been made to ensure that staff will have an opportunity to step in if someone's chickens become a problem.
Given these two facts, I see no reason to unfairly limit anyone who wishes to keep chickens and is willing to submit to the limitations of our proposed policy.

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, February 27, 2017

What you may not know: Week of February 27

While this week technically starts in February, Wednesday is the first Wednesday in March. As such, it's a full council meeting week for the Appleton Common Council, but we have some business to take care of in committee first:

Finance Committee, Wednesday, 6:15 pm

Last week's Finance Committee meeting had to be rescheduled due to last Tuesday's primary election, so the committee will meet Wednesday night before council to take up their action items. They'll be asked to approve seven contracts for projects this week including bridge maintenance, street, sewer and water reconstructions and two roof replacements.

The biggest ticket action item on the agenda for Wednesday, however, is the latest package of bids for the ongoing Exhibition Center project. This package includes 15 components of the project, easily our largest package to date. The good news out of all of this is that the combined components are under budget (this group is $10.4 million) and the project continues to proceed on time and on budget.

Additionally, on Wednesday the Committee will be asked to approve a settlement with CVS Pharmacy related to an ongoing lawsuit over their property assessment. Last week the Post Crescent had a great overview of a property tax loophole allowing "big box" retailers to claim their property should be assessed at the value it would hold if it were an empty store, instead of at the facility's market rate. The difference between the two is significant and could have a major impact on property taxes if the loophole is left in place. Last week the Community and Economic Development Committee unanimously approved a resolution calling for the State Legislature to close the loophole. Until or unless they do so, however, we have no choice but to settle suits like this.

Common Council, Wednesday, 7 pm

The remaining items of note on the council agenda are things we discussed last week. Here's an update on where we stand:

  • The Human Resources Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of reorganization requests from the Police Department (modifications in the Administrative Services Division), Fire Department (merging Battalion Chief positions, creating a new training position and shifting the balance of Captains/Lieutenants) and Valley Transit (creating flexibility in the number of part-time drivers hired).
  • The Municipal Services Committee also voted unanimously to approve a change to the city's snow removal policy that would remove driveway aprons from the list of spaces required to be cleared by property owners. At the meeting it was discussed that this portion of the ordinance rarely comes up in practice, and it's rare for a community to require aprons to be cleared.
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, 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.