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 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!

Monday, March 21, 2016

What you may not know: Week of March 21

We're back onto a committee week for the Appleton Common Council, and here are the items I'll be watching:

Parks & Recreation, Monday, 6 pm

The pool at Erb Park has been one of the more contentious issues we've discussed recently as a council, and the project will take another step forward this week as the Parks & Recreation Committee gets its first opportunity the review a pair of proposals for the new facility. No action will be taken on this item at this meeting.

MSA Professional Services, the organization handling design of the new facility, recently held a public input session at Memorial Park where they presented a pair of options. You can see Communications Coordinator Chad Doran's story on that event here, or view the full presentation for yourself if interested.

A vote to approve a final plan will be coming in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, the project remains on schedule. The pool will be open for one last season in its current form in 2016, with construction beginning immediately following the season and a new pool ready for 2017.

Additionally, on Monday the committee will be asked again to make a recommendation regarding a resolution calling for the site of the city's former water plant to be renamed Ellen Kort Peace Park, in honor of Wisconsin's first poet laureate. This process has been delayed a bit, but in the end I do not expect it to be controversial.

Finance, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

The process of closing the book on the 2015 city budget is just about wrapped up, and one of the final steps will happen this week as the Finance Committee is asked to make a recommendation on requests to carry unspent 2015 budget dollars over for 2016 projects.

The budget carryover requests can be divided into three groups:

  1. The items labeled "not under contract" are projects that were budgeted for 2015 but not completed for any of a variety of reasons, including available time or contract bids exceeding our budget allotment for any given project. This group also includes several contingency funds.
  2. 75% of any remaining unspent dollars after that, usually a result of vacant salary dollars and/or projects that came in under budget, are applied to debt service, which is part of the reason the city retains such low municipal debt as compared to any other city our size across the state.
  3. The remaining available dollars, slightly more than $600,000 this year, are available for "special consideration" expenses and projects. This year about half of those dollars are projected to go to "pay for performance adjustments" for city staff as part of the salary structure council approved a few years ago.
That leaves about $300,000 available for new projects. Here are some of the highlights from the requests for those dollars:
  • $115,000 to supplement 2016 budget dollars for our concrete paving program to compensate for contracts coming in over our budget estimates.
  • $37,252 to study a possibile upgrade for the 40-year-old power distribution system at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.
  • $35,890 to reconstruct portions of the city's North Island Trail.
Additionally, on Tuesday the Finance Committee will also be asked to recommend approval of a three-year contract with ThedaCare to provide health care services at a new employee health clinic. The contract calls for an hourly Nurse Practitioner, Registered Nurse and Medical Assistant to be available for eligible patients at a to-be-determined site to provide access to acute, primary, occupational health and preventive care.

On Tuesday the committee will hear from Associated Financial Group and ThedaCare about the objectives, savings and investment involved in this project. Some questions remain unanswered, such as where the clinic will be located and what our expenses might be for leasing said space. With that said, this seems like a prudent option to manage our organizational health care costs while also providing another option for our employees.

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, March 8, 2016

What you may not know: Week of March 8

With apologies for coming in a day late (it's rapidly becoming a busy time of year for me), here's a quick look at this week's committee highlights:

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

Despite the fact that this blog has been on hiatus for a couple of weeks, I've already written multiple times about the work being done to attempt to redesign the portion of County Highway JJ between Ballard and Lightning, as it passes by North High School and several commercial properties. That item will come before the Municipal Services Committee again this week, with a new recommendation.

Previous staff recommendations for this project had included a raised median the full length of the project, effectively barring all left turns onto or off of JJ into both the high school and neighboring businesses. Staff's new redesign still bars left turns out of the high school (and prevents traffic from going straight across from the high school to Kwik Trip), but includes left turn-ins for both the Citgo and Kwik Trip properties, along with the undeveloped commercial property east of Kwik Trip. The project does still include greatly improved pedestrian infrastructure at the high school exit.

This recommendation comes with the understanding that the left turn lanes into Kwik Trip and Citgo will likely need to be closed at some point in the future as traffic along JJ grows and the lanes' functionality decreases. Under this recommendation, the county would be able to close those lanes at their discretion at a future date.

While I applaud everyone who came to the table to work on this compromise and acknowledge that it's certainly safer than the current layout, I'm still a bit uneasy about it. The new recommendation features instances that are less safe for both vehicles and pedestrians. While I recognize the convenience and business concerns that led us to this decision, I'm having a hard time being willing to sacrifice safety, especially next to a school.

Mayoral candidate forum, Tuesday, 7 pm

While the discussion about Highway JJ continues at Municipal Services, a broader discussion about Appleton and its future will be happening at Einstein Middle School as the Post Crescent hosts a forum for Mayor Tim Hanna and mayoral candidate Josh Dukelow. You can see more details on that event here.

Board of Health, Wednesday, 7 am

From there, we'll be right back to City Hall first thing on Wednesday morning for another discussion on bees.

When council passed a resolution opening the door for permits for residential beekeeping last year, we outlined a process for permit approval that requires the notification of all property owners within a certain distance of proposed hives and the opportunity to object. If an objection is received, then there is an opportunity to conduct an appeal hearing on whether the permit should be approved. I wrote a fair amount about this process when it came up last summer.

On Wednesday the Board of Health will hear the first such appeal. I'm curious to see how this process will work, as it will likely set the precedent for future potential hearings. Additionally, this process might highlight any tweaks that need to be made to the ordinance going forward.

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.