Monday, June 20, 2016

What you may not know: Week of June 20

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

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

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

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

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

Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 13, 2016

What you may not know: Week of June 13

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

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

Cell phone towers

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

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

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

South Oneida streetscape design

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

Employee Health Clinic

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 9, 2016

What you may not know: Week of May 9

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

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm:

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

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

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

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

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

Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

What you may not know: Week of April 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 18, 2016

What you may not know: Week of April 18

A new council year begins this week as we swear in our one new council member, re-assign our standing committees and review our council rules before settling in for our regularly scheduled council meeting on Wednesday night.

Organizational Meeting, Wednesday, 6 pm

As I mentioned above, council has some housekeeping work to do this week to establish the framework for our new council year. At least once annually, as council turns over following the spring elections, we come together to review and consider amendments to our council rules. This year I have one proposed change related to holding meetings during winter storm events.

As I look out my office window this morning it's hard to believe that it was snowing about a week ago. Nonetheless, this winter's handful of heavy snow events brought an issue to the forefront regarding the way we schedule and hold meetings during the winter months. All of our committee and council meetings meet at the call of the chair, meaning it's up to our chairpersons to decide whether or not to cancel a meeting in the event of inclement weather or other factors. This creates some possibility for inconsistency: A few weeks ago during a snow emergency, for example, we had two meetings cancelled and one go on as scheduled.

There are a pair of challenges with holding meetings during snow events or times of extreme cold. The first, of course, is safety. One of the first things we hear during times of extreme weather is to avoid unnecessary travel. Holding public meetings during times where we're openly advising people to stay indoors and/or off the roads sends a challenging mixed message. As I said in the resolution, attending a meeting of the Appleton Common Council should not require citizens to expose themselves to potentially dangerous conditions. Additionally, snow events sometimes cause significant parking restrictions downtown, making it increasingly difficult for our constituents to reach our meetings.

This rule change could create some new challenges, of course: Notices for our public meetings announce a specific date and time, and moving those dates or times around does create confusion. Additionally, council occasionally faces items that have a critical timing element and being forced to cancel a meeting could create a time crunch there. However, I think the safety element has to take priority here.

Common Council, Wednesday, 7 pm (or shortly after the conclusion of the organizational meeting)

Once the organizational meeting concludes we'll move on to our regularly-scheduled council meeting. This week's highlights are all items we discussed in last week's post, so here's a brief update:

  • The City Plan Commission voted unanimously last Monday to reaffirm their recommendation for a rezoning on Schaefer Circle that would allow for additional multifamily housing to be developed near the existing facilities. They had previously voted 5-1 to recommend approval, so this is actually a stronger statement than they made before.
  • Last week the Municipal Services Committee voted 4-0 to approve a contract with TAPCO to purchase and install a Parking Access and Revenue Control System for city parking ramps to help with our transition to a "pay on exit" model and the ability to accept credit cards and parking validations.
  • Last week on Tuesday and Wednesday the Finance and Community and Economic Development committees, respectively, voted to recommend approval of staff's request to purchase 7+ acres of land just outside our borders in the Town of Grand Chute, and annex them into the city with the intention of using them someday as business/industrial property. The only major development from that conversation was the committee learning that the property owner immediately to the west of this property, who owns an additional ~20 acres, is also interested in selling.
You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

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

Monday, April 11, 2016

What you may not know: Week of April 11

This is a bit of an unusual week for the Appleton Common Council, as our standing committees meet for one final time before (potentially) being rearranged a bit when our new council member is sworn in and a new council year begins next week.

Nonetheless, we have a busy set of agendas to consider this week. Here is what I'll be following:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

Last week at council we referred back a proposed rezoning on Schaefer Circle that would allow an existing multifamily development to construct another apartment building on their site. Within the last two years the property has changed hands and new ownership has made significant improvements to the facilities, but the neighbors we've heard from still seem upset over the general lack of upkeep under the previous owners, impact on property values and additional traffic.

Back in March the City Plan Commission voted 5-1 to recommend this item for approval. To the best of my knowledge little has changed since then.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

Work continues on implementation of many of the objectives identified in last year's downtown parking study, and we'll take a big step forward over the next couple of weeks as council will be asked to approve a contract with TAPCO to purchase and install a Parking Access and Revenue Control System for three of the city's downtown parking ramps.

The new system will allow the city to transition to a pay-on-exit, time-based model instead of our existing pay-on-entry, flat fee existing model. It also allows for the installation of both "pay on foot" and "pay in exit lane" stations that will accept credit cards and a parking validation system. The cost of the purchase and installation of the new system is $650,000 and will be paid (to my understanding) by the Parking Utility, not general fund dollars.

Community and Economic Development, Wednesday, 5 pm

Finally, on Wednesday we'll be asked for the first time to consider a proposed purchase of a property along Edgewood Drive in the Town of Grand Chute that would then be annexed into the city of Appleton.

The property's address is 110 W. Edgewood Drive, which falls between Meade and Richmond Streets. It's currently a single-family home with an outbuilding on 7.29 acres of property but has been identified on the city's future land use map as Business/Industrial. The city's Comprehensive Plan calls for work to ensure "a continued adequate supply of industrial and commercial land to sustain new business development."

Staff is asking for approval to offer $299,900 to purchase this property, which is about $41,000 per acre. The offer includes several contingencies, including inspections and feasibility studies to ensure no pre-existing issues with or under the site and buildability of the site going forward. The money to purchase this site would come from the city's Industrial Park Land fund, and would not need to be borrowed.

I'm looking forward to a discussion this week on this property's possible future use, the price and the impact on neighboring properties.

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, April 5, 2016

What you may not know: Week of April 4, Election Day edition

Good morning folks,

I'm quite pressed for time today so I hope you'll forgive me for skipping my usual update, but while I have a moment I did want to remind everyone that today is the spring election in Appleton, so please get out and cast your vote. In addition to the presidential primary you've likely heard about, today voters across the city will also have contested races for mayor and the state supreme court.

If you live in the 13th district, your polling location is Faith Lutheran Church, at 3100 E Evergreen Drive. If you don't live in the 13th district or you're not sure, you can find your polling location at my.appleton.org. The polls are open from 7 am-8 pm today, and this time you are required to present a photo ID.

Thanks for reading and voting, and have a great day!