Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What you may not know: Week of November 13

With the city budget passed and the holidays upcoming, we're likely looking at a quiet final six weeks or so for the Appleton Common Council in 2017. I likely will not have updates for you next week, when most of our committee meetings are off for the Thanksgiving holiday or the week after, as the council does not meet on weeks of the fifth Wednesday of the month.

Before we get to that break, however, we do have some business to tend to this week:

Safety & Licensing Committee, Wednesday, 6:30 pm

Several years ago the council voted to ban alcohol on quadricycles or "pedal pubs" in the city. Earlier this year The Social Station started operating an alcohol-free quadricycle in the city and their first season has largely gone by without any concerns. After extended discussion with the Police Department and the proprietor of The Social Station, Alderman Joe Martin introduced a resolution that will likely lead to us revisiting our previous decisions on this topic.

Alderman Martin's resolution is very specific, calling for The Social Station patrons to be allowed to carry alcohol on board (no alcohol will be sold on the quadricycle) on a designated route. While I recognize and support what Alderman Martin is trying to do, I'm hoping to expand the scope of the resolution to create an end result that doesn't just apply to one business and one route.

I anticipate a lively discussion on this topic on Wednesday night but a likely end result is this resolution being referred to staff to discuss potential broader ordinance changes.

Parks and Recreation, Wednesday, approximately 6:45 pm

Once the Safety & Licensing Committee wraps up its meeting the Parks and Recreation Committee will take their place to discuss an item that could impact the future of Memorial Park.

It has recently come to our attention that two properties along Northland Avenue near the park are available for sale. Memorial Park's recently updated long-term plans noted that these parcels of land would be worthwhile additions to the park if possible, and recent developments have put us in a position to consider it. The asking price for the two properties is a combined $240,000, and the purchase would be made out of an existing park land fund.

Both of the meetings listed above are special meetings before our scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday night. If the committees elect to take action on either of these items at their meetings, their action will be taken up by the full council later in the night. 

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, November 6, 2017

What you may not know: Week of November 6

It's the busiest week of the year for the Appleton Common Council, as this is the week we're expected to adopt a 2018 city budget. Before we get to that, however, we also have committee business to tend to tonight:

Finance Committee, Monday, 5:30 pm

Monday evening's Finance Committee agenda includes a few items of significant interest:

  • Staff has again asked the committee to approve an intergovernmental agreement with the Appleton Area School District to lend the district short-term cash to help ease challenges created by the differences between when the school district receives revenue and when it has to make expenditures. The maximum AASD can borrow as part of this agreement is $17.5 million and any borrowed funds are required to be repaid to the city with interest by June 30.
  • The next step in the process to determine the future of the Appleton Public Library is a Request For Proposals (RFP) for mixed-use developments including a library within the city's downtown area. The RFP will come before the committee this week with one notable change from the last discussion: The RFP deadline has been extended to January 12 and no council or library board action on the final result is expected until February at the earliest.
  • The process of renovating Jones Park was expected to begin yet this fall but staff has asked the committee to recommend rejecting all bids for proposed 2017 work to allow the project to move to 2018 following the completion of the Fox Cities Exhibition Center. There is hope that combining all of the work in the park into one project will create efficiencies that could lower the total cost.
Budget Adoption, Wednesday, 6 pm

Finally, on Wednesday night the Common Council is expected to conclude our month-long budget review process by adopting the City of Appleton's proposed 2018 budget. This year at our annual Budget Saturday review session the following amendments were approved:

  • The city's contribution to the Fox Cities Regional Partnership was decreased from $36,000 to $25,000 and the remaining revenue was earmarked specifically to support FCRP's "Talent Upload" program.
  • A capital project for $62,765 was added to the Public Safety Capital Projects Fund to allow for the replacement of a Police Tactical Robot. 
  • $102,909 was added to the Police budget to allow for salary and equipment for a new Behavioral Health Officer.
  • $100,000 budgeted for design and preliminary work at Ellen Kort Peace Park was removed from the Facilities Capital Projects Fund.
The following proposed amendments were not approved:
  • Reducing the budget for Common Council training and conferences by $2000.
  • Expanding the Department of Public Works' crosswalk enhancement plan by $40,000 to include the intersection of College Avenue and Shaefer Street.
There are six more proposed amendments on the agenda for Wednesday night, including three of mine:
  • A change to Reid Golf Course's repayment schedule on a 2002 cash advance from the general fund, calling for the city to eliminate $11,500 in rent payments to the golf course and instead apply that amount to the course's outstanding debt.
  • An addition of $6600 to the City Clerk's budget to allow for a tuition reimbursement.
  • Moving three capital projects totaling $104,632 from debt-funded to general fund status using surplus revenue available from unexpected state aid, and as such lowering the city's 2018 borrowing package and future debt service expenses.

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, October 23, 2017

What you may not know: Week of October 23

It's easily the busiest time of the year for the Appleton Common Council as our annual budget review is underway. Our regularly scheduled committee meetings are also taking place this week, including one meeting that will likely draw a fair amount of attention:

Safety & Licensing, Wednesday, 5:30 pm

A month ago this committee was asked to consider a resolution submitted by Alderpersons Vered Meltzer, Bob Baker and Patti Coenen discussing the role of the Appleton Police Department as it relates to the enforcement of federal immigration laws. At that time the item was referred to the City Attorney's office for further review of the legal ramifications of passing this resolution, which calls for the city to continue to not use local, discretionary resources to pursue undocumented immigrants except as necessary for public safety.

I've received a fair amount of feedback and questions on this resolution over the last six weeks or so. One of the pieces of information that I think is most important to know here, and which I've now discussed with a fair number of contacts, is that the actions called for in this resolution are no different from what the APD is already doing.

The APD's primary function is to promote and provide public safety. As such, any action they may take that causes potential witnesses or victims of a crime to be fearful of coming forward is detrimental to their ability to prevent and/or solve said crimes. The resolution before us was titled "Resolution Reaffirming the Public Safety Function of Local Law Enforcement," and that's effectively what we're being asked to do here: To ensure that discretionary actions we could take as related to immigration law don't impinge upon our ability to protect public safety.

Finance Committee, Saturday, 8 am

As I mentioned above, the process of setting the city's 2018 annual budget has moved on to the Common Council. One of our biggest annual meetings is this Saturday as the Finance Committee will come together to spend the full day reviewing the 660-page document and the $170 million in spending outlined therein.

This year it took me 15 days to read through the budget in its entirety and on Friday afternoon I pre-submitted 53 questions to the mayor and department heads. This weekend's session is our first opportunity to discuss the budget in its entirety (although many committees have already discussed their portions of it) and for the Finance Committee to propose amendments.

From here the budget moves on to a public hearing in front of the full council on November 1 and any final amendments and the final budget adoption are scheduled for November 8.

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, October 16, 2017

What you may not know: Week of October 16

The Appleton Common Council will hold our regularly scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday night, but before we get there another notable meeting will have happened:

Library Board, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

Efforts to determine the future of the Appleton Public Library will take another step forward this week as the Library Board will be asked to review and approve a request for proposals (RFP) related to potential mixed-use facilities on the current library site or nearby within the downtown area. This item is also expected to come before council before being approved.

The RFP (which can be seen via the attachment at this link) lays out specific expectations for the library's required space (120,000 square feet), its expected role as the anchor of any development and its requirements for access. It also includes a map that clearly delineates the area to be considered and a requirement that any developer submitting a proposal be willing to take on the task of acquiring the properties they suggest if they intend to utilize non-city owned parcels. Additionally, any proposal involving the current library site is required to include plans for a temporary library during construction.

Assuming this RFP is approved on schedule, proposals would be due in by December 8 at noon and discussion on any proposals recommended for consideration would likely happen early in 2018.

Moving on to items on Wednesday's Common Council agenda:

Aldermanic salaries

As elected officials, members of the Common Council are prohibited from voting on our own salaries. As such, once each year we take up the task of setting a salary for our positions two years in advance, after all of our current terms have expired. Last week the Human Resources and Information Technology Committee was asked to consider aldermanic salaries starting in April of 2019, and voted 4-1 to give them a zero increase and remain at $6129.50 with an optional parking pass for the city's soon-to-be-demolished Blue Ramp.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index suggests that the rate of inflation from August of 2016 to August of 2017 was 1.93%, so a zero increase is effectively a pay cut when considered against inflation. The August-to-August CPI inflation calculation was used to help determine 2016's 2% increase and 2017's 1.1% increase. I'm hopeful that, at a bare minimum, council will consider adjusting the position's salary slightly to avoid falling behind inflation.

However, even a simple inflation adjustment would ignore a larger issue: Demand for seats on the Appleton Common Council is remarkably low. In 2017 eight seats (including mine) were up for re-election and we had just one contested race. In one case we had an uncontested race for an open seat. In 2016 just two of our seven seats had contested races. In the five years since I first ran for council in 2013 63% of the aldermanic races have gone uncontested, including 80% in the last two years.

As I noted in my budget preview a couple of weeks ago alderpersons are tasked with, among other things, oversight, review and adoption of the city's $170 million annual budget. The city's ability to function going forward depends on our ability to continue to find qualified and engaged people to serve on our council. More and more often, we're finding that people aren't interested. Given that the position pays less than $6000/year (the $6129.50 figure cited above doesn't take effect until next April), it isn't hard to imagine why we aren't seeing many candidates.

In virtually any other business, opening jobs for applications and routinely hearing from one or zero applicants would be a cause for alarm and reevaluation. As a council, we've been there for years. I'm hopeful we'll do something to attempt to address this.

Finally, an update on an item that will appear on our agendas in the future:

Trick or Treating hours

In Appleton the official trick or treating hours are from 4-8 pm on Halloween night, which is a Tuesday this year. These hours have been in place since before my election to the council but every year I receive a few complaints and requests to alter the plan to better match our neighboring municipalities, who largely have shorter windows for this event. As such, two weeks ago I submitted a request for the city to re-evaluate our trick or treating procedures going forward.

Last week the Safety & Licensing Committee discussed this item for the first time and opted to delay action until December. No action will be taken on this item this week, and the trick or treating hours for 2017 will remain at 4-8 pm. However, the committee will take this item up again at our December meeting and may consider proposing changes for 2018 at that time.

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.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

2018 Budget books have arrived

Apologies for a light couple of weeks of posting: Things have been relatively quiet on our council agendas and I've been occupied elsewhere.

That will change over the next few weeks as the 2018 Budget arrived on our council desks this evening. This year's book is 660 pages long and contains slightly more than $170 million in spending, including our enterprise funds, capital projects and debt service.

The budget schedule for the next six weeks or so is as follows:

October 28: Budget Saturday - The Finance Committee's all-day budget review session.
November 1: Budget Public Hearing - The public's opportunity to come weigh in on the 2018 budget.
November 8: Budget Adoption - The final opportunity to make amendments to the budget before it is approved.

So, if you're looking for me anytime between now and November 8, look for the guy carrying around the giant blue binder full of Post-It tabs.

Monday, September 11, 2017

What you may not know: Week of September 11

The Appleton Common Council has a full committee schedule this week, and here are some of the highlights:

Finance Committee, Monday. 5:30 pm

The City of Appleton's municipal borders have seen a great deal of changes over the years and are rarely square due to single property annexations, boundary agreements with our neighboring municipalities and other factors that make it difficult to simply draw straight lines on a map. These issues have come to the forefront again recently as the Town of Harrison and Town of Menasha incorporated into the Villages of Harrison and Fox Crossing, further complicating border issues.

This week the Finance Committee will be asked to review a resolution submitted by my predecessor, Alderman Jim Clemons, in 2009 calling for the city to develop a ten-year plan to take action to "square off" municipal borders.

While challenging to achieve, having a collection of easily defined and clear borders would allow the city to improve efficiency when providing services. Around our borders there are a significant numbers of peninsulas and islands where various city/village/town departments have to drive across another municipality to provide services to their constituents.

Getting to that point, however, is not as easy as it sounds. Transferring property between two municipalities impacts both communities' tax bases, as one loses the property value and another gains it. In addition, bringing property into the city creates challenges related to the expansion of city infrastructure (especially utilities) and disposing of dated infrastructure like septic tanks. Once the city has invested in building roads and utility mains to a property, it's unlikely we're going to happily forfeit that tax base and hand it to another municipality. Similarly, it's unlikely other municipalities will simply forfeit property to us just to allow us to square off our borders.

In the end, I suspect this could lead to an interesting discussion on priorities and the value of efficiency as compared to preservation of our tax base.

Parks and Recreation, Monday, 6:30 pm

Back in July the Common Council received a resolution from Alderpersons Bob Baker, Vered Meltzer and Keir Dvorachek calling for the city to take a collection of actions in response to climate change and the threat that the federal government will attempt to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The four actions requested by the resolution are:

  1. (The City) Indicates its commitment to reducing GHG emissions through future implementation of a Climate Action Plan; and 
  2. Join other US cities in the Climate Mayors network in adopting and supporting the goals of the Paris Agreement; and 
  3. Commits to exploring the potential benefits and costs of adopting policies and programs that promote the long-term goal of GHG emissions reduction while maximizing economic and social co-benefits of such action. 
  4. Form a Climate Change Board, to be filled by citizens of Appleton, city officials, and city staff to help set these goals and policies.
It's my understanding that the mayor recently met with the three authors of this resolution to outline actions the city is currently taking to encourage sustainability as part of our participation in the Green Tier Legacy Communities. Tonight the Parks & Recreation Committee will be asked to make a recommendation on this resolution in that context. 

Over the last few months I've received a significant amount of contact from individuals interested in seeing the city take a stand on this issue. Hopefully this item will present a positive opportunity for the city to discuss actions we've already taken and possible opportunities to continue to improve.

Community and Economic Development, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

The time of year has come once again for the city to begin work on Community Development Block Grants for the year ahead. Per usual, the city is expected to receive about $535,000 in grants from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and those funds will provide resources for a collection of city programs and grants to local organizations. 

As one of the first steps in the CDBG process, on Wednesday the CED Committee will be asked to recommend approval of the city programs expected to receive grant funding:
  • $115,000 for the Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program
  • $60,000 for the Appleton Housing Authority
  • $40,000 for the city's Neighborhood Program
  • $75,000 combined for the city's CDBG administrative costs and Fair Housing Services.
In addition for 2018 these requests include an expansion of the Appleton Police Department's "Summer of Service" program. The initiative, which has been active in the city for several years, works with at-risk teens to develop teamwork, work ethic and engagement skills. Receiving grant funding would allow for the expansion of this program to cover some of the Police Department's costs and offer a stipend to the students involved, which greatly raises the interest level in participating. The PD's grant request is for $51,847.71 to expand the program.

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.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Council Invocation for September 6

Tonight I have the honor of giving the invocation before our regular council meeting. Here is the statement I plan to share:

Typically when asked to give the invocation I start with two goals: The first is to be brief, and the second is to be lighthearted. I'll still be brief tonight but in light of recent events, the cleanup from a hurricane immediately adjacent to the preparations for another and wildfires raging from Montana to California, tonight does not seem like an appropriate time to stand up and tell a joke.

So tonight I come to you with two things: First, a request to take a moment today to think of those that have lost everything, and those on the edge of losing still more.

Second, I wanted to share with you my sincere hope that, on the worst day of your life, you'll find someone who sincerely wants to offer assistance, and that they'll help without asking why you need it.