Monday, July 10, 2017

What you may not know: Week of July 10

It's been a quiet few weeks for the Appleton Common Council:

  • Our regular council meeting on the first Wednesday of the month was cancelled for July in observance of the Fourth of July holiday.
  • With that meeting cancelled, most of the committee meetings from the prior week that would typically have referred items to our council meeting were also cancelled and had their items postponed to this week.
So, with all of that said, many of our committees have busy agendas this week. Here are some of the highlights:

Joint Review Board, Monday, 10:30 am
City Plan Commission, Tuesday, 4 pm

Two meetings will be held this week to discuss and make recommendations on a staff request to create two new Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts, generally located on the east and west ends of downtown. Madeleine Behr of the Post Crescent outlined the proposals on Friday. 

TIF financing is generally used to spur development or to make necessary infrastructure improvements to allow or enhance development in areas where development or redevelopment could otherwise not occur. Once a district's boundaries are identified and a TIF district is approved, here's a basic outline of how the financing process works:
  • The amount of property tax revenue going to the four taxing entities (the city, county, school district and FVTC) from properties within the district is frozen for the duration of the TIF financing period.
  • Money is borrowed to finance the TIF's expenditures, which may include infrastructure improvements, developer incentives, etc, with the goal of increasing property values within the district.
  • As the property values within the district increase, so does the amount of property tax revenue collected. Any revenue over the "frozen" amount listed above is the increment, and is used to pay down the borrowing.
  • Eventually the debts are repaid and the TIF district is closed. At that time, the taxing entities are again allowed to collect the full value of the property taxes.
As such, it's worth noting and reminding you that TIF financing, including developer incentives, does not use general fund property tax dollars and will not impact your property taxes in any way. When the city (or any taxing entity) uses TIF financing, the money borrowed is financed against future tax revenue increases for the specific area, and tax rates are unchanged.

Municipal Services Committee, Monday, 4:30 pm

On Monday the Municipal Services Committee will also be asked to make a recommendation on the next step related to the city's railroad trestle acquisition and efforts to make the city a railroad quiet zone.

Both the city's trestle acquisition agreement and quiet zone process rely on our willingness to close a street railroad crossing near the corner of Locust Street and Lawrence Street near downtown. This week the committee will be asked to approve the discontinuance of Locust Street at that crossing as part of that process. If approved the street closure would not happen immediately but is likely to occur before the end of the year.

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, June 12, 2017

What you may not know: Week of June 12

The Appleton Common Council has a busy committee week scheduled, and here are some of the highlights:

Finance Committee, Monday, 5:30 pm

Earlier this year the council was asked to react to an unusual situation regarding our special assessment policy, where a collection of single-family homes on commercially-zoned property received assessments much higher than they expected because their property's zoning did not match its use. Following that action, Alderman Bill Siebers introduced a resolution to amend our special assessment policy to eliminate this issue. That resolution has been held for a few months but will be back before the committee tonight.

In addition, tonight's Finance Committee agenda includes an information item (for discussion only) on the process involved in moving forward with plans for a new Appleton Public Library. During previous efforts to move forward on this issue there have been some philosophical differences between the Library Board, a body independent from council charged with oversight of the library and its operation, and the Common Council, who controls the library's budget. Tonight's information item is expected to be a discussion on those two roles and how they interact in the process of considering a large capital project.

Library Board Planning Committee, Tuesday, 4 pm

In a related note to the prior item, on Tuesday one of the Library Board's committees has an action item calling for consideration of three options that could help shape the conversation going forward:

  • Refreshing the existing site selection matrix used when the board recommended the "bluff site" in 2015.
  • Re-making the site selection matrix.
  • Soliciting proposals for a mixed use library within a geographical range of the existing library site.
All three options would include consideration of the current site as an option within the re-evaluation of potential sites. And, of course, none of this represents a final decision: Any action taken at this meeting is a committee recommendation to the full library board on priorities to consider when or if proceeding with the decision-making process.

City Plan Commission, Tuesday, 4 pm

At the same time as the aforementioned Library committee meeting, the City Plan Commission will be asked to make a recommendation on a zoning change for another expansion of a subdivision north of County Highway JJ.

This time the specific request calls for 15 more single-family residential lots to be added to the Emerald Valley subdivision, which is located north and west of the intersection of Highway JJ and French Road. This follows closely on the heels of the most recent approved addition to the same subdivision, which council approved in April.

I do not intend to oppose this rezoning but I do continue to mention them as they come up because, as I've noted previously, continued expansion on the north side does carry some hidden costs in our road, utility, fire protection and school infrastructure.

Community and Economic Development Committee, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

Finally, on Wednesday the Community and Economic Development Committee has a scheduled appearance and presentation that may interest many residents of the city's north side. Representatives from ThedaCare will be present at the meeting for a discussion on their process related to a proposed regional hospital and its impact on the city. Public conversation on this topic has been quiet for some time now, so I'm looking forward to an opportunity to hear the latest on what's happening.

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, May 22, 2017

What you may not know: Week of May 22

Before I get to this week's (relatively light) update on the Appleton Common Council's Committee schedule, an update on an item we've discussed at great length previously:

Dogs in Parks

As you may have heard, last week the Appleton Common Council (with Mayor Hanna breaking a 7-7 tie) voted to approve a resolution amended to allow dogs on sidewalks and trails within our city parks. The resolution was amended down to include just the sidewalks and trails in parks, but will include the sidewalks and trails in all parks (as opposed to a previous amendment limiting the number of parks) once the final ordinance is adopted.

And there lies the point I want to emphasize: The current ordinance banning dogs in parks remains in place until the new ordinance is adopted. This will likely happen at our next full council meeting on June 7. Until then, please continue to follow the existing ordinance.

Now, on to this week's committee agendas:

Finance Committee, Monday, 5:30 pm
Safety & Licensing Committee, Wednesday, 5:30 pm


This week both of the committees listed above will be asked to make a recommendation on an intergovernmental agreement with Outagamie County that could lead to new voting equipment for the city's 2018 elections.

All told, Outagamie County has 33 municipalities conducting elections during each cycle, and they're using a wide array of voting and vote tabulating equipment on each election day. This creates significant challenges when the time comes to count the votes, so the county has a vested interest in making sure as many municipalities as possible are using the same equipment going forward. They've proposed a cost-sharing measure to help municipalities get on the same page.

Of course, trying to get all of the municipalities on the same page regarding what equipment is best creates a new set of challenges. For the city, this includes the following:

  • A seven-member procurement team for new voting equipment would include just one representative from the City of Appleton.
  • Outagamie County understandably has no interest in purchasing equipment for use in other counties, so the city could bear some additional expenses to purchase matching equipment for the portions of our jurisdiction in Winnebago and Calumet counties.
While I understand the county's motivations for pursuing this action, we have a responsibility to make sure the city's interests are protected to the fullest extent possible. I'll be interested in hearing more about how this could work for all parties.

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.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What you may not know: Week of May 15

The Appleton Common Council has our regularly-scheduled Wednesday meeting this week, and our agenda includes a few items we discussed in last week's update:

Auto sales on Clark Street

Last week the City Plan Commission voted unanimously to reaffirm their recommendation that the city grant a Special Use Permit to an existing car repair shop at 524 N Clark Street (north of downtown between Packard and Atlantic Street) to allow them to also display and sell cars from that location.

As I wrote in last week's update Clark Street is very narrow and the properties along it are mostly residential, so the neighbors have some very understandable concerns about noise, traffic and parking as they relate to the potential impact of the business expanding. This street is not an appropriate place for the increased traffic or test driving of vehicles, especially high-performance vehicles, and as such I do not intend to support the permit.

Dogs in parks

Last week the Parks & Recreation Committee again amended my resolution calling for the city to lift its outdated ban on dogs in city parks. Their amendments included the following:

  • Removing a previous amendment that called for dogs to only be allowed in six parks near the river.
  • Adding a proposed restriction calling for dogs to remain on sidewalks, trails or roads and be restricted from access to playgrounds, athletic fields, picnic areas, lawns, courts, skateboard parks, disc golf courses, pavilions and pool areas.
  • Doubling the fines for violations of dog-related ordinances.
These amendments are something of a mixed bag for me: I requested the first one and was pleased to see it pass. The second is, in my opinion, an overreaction to a set of far-out circumstances that are unlikely to occur (although I'm amused by the premise of dogs taking over a swimming pool), and the third is problematic: Fines for dog-related offenses in the city already exceed $300, so a ~$700 fine for a first offense being caught with an unleashed dog seems excessive to me.

At any rate, I'm pleased to see this item continuing to move forward and I'm hopeful we can make some adjustments to it before casting a final vote on Wednesday night.

Bees and chickens

Last week the Board of Health voted unanimously to approve a resolution calling for the city to expand urban beekeeping to be allowed on the rooftops of commercial buildings.  They voted against, however, a resolution calling for the city to amend its rules regarding urban chickens to allow chicken runs larger than 24 square feet. 

I'm concerned by the latter vote, which seems to go against all good science and best practices regarding the keeping of urban chickens. I'm hoping we'll fix that on the council floor.

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, May 8, 2017

What you may not know: Week of May 8

The Appleton Common Council has a busy committee week ahead (I have five meetings on my calendar, for those of you that like to count my workload and determine if I've earned my salary). Here are some of the highlights:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

Last week the Common Council referred a request for a Special Use Permit along North Clark Street back to the Plan Commission for further discussion, so it will appear on their agenda again this week.

North Clark Street is a very narrow street north of downtown with no parking on both sides and homes very close to the road. In this area (the 500 block) it's also a border between residential properties to the north and west and commercial properties to the east. VL Performance operates an auto repair shop in this neighborhood and has recently applied for permission to expand their business to include automobile sales and display. This has drawn some concern from their neighbors, who have concerns about adequate parking, noise and congestion on their narrow road.

Across the city, borders between zoning types create occasional challenges due to differences in usage, hours of operation, infrastructure needs and the like. The commission and eventually the council will have a challenge here to balance these issues.

Parks & Recreation, Monday, 6:30 pm

Our discussion on dogs in parks resumes tonight as the Parks & Recreation committee will receive and could act upon a report from staff on the possibility of partially or entirely lifting the city's longstanding and outdated ban.

I submitted the original resolution calling for the city to lift its ban three weeks ago, and two weeks ago the committee voted to amend the resolution to lift the ban in six parks along the Fox River: Lutz Park, Vulcan Heritage Park, Peabody Park, Telulah Park, Jones Park and the future Ellen Kort Peace Park. They then referred the item to staff for further study.

While I appreciate the compromise the committee is discussing and will support it if we can't do better, tonight I plan to ask the committee to please return to discussing my original resolution. In the past I've argued against creating two different sets of rules in our parks, as I feel it will create confusion about which parks fall into which category and make an ordinance that's already difficult to enforce even more challenging to follow.

Either way, I'm hoping this committee will take action tonight so the item can go to council next week.

Board of Health, Wednesday, 7 am

A couple of old favorite topics will be back on the agenda this week for the Board of Health, as they will be asked to consider the following:

  • A resolution to expand urban beekeeping to allow bees on commercial rooftops.
  • A resolution to amend the ordinance regarding urban chickens to expand the maximum chicken run size from 24 square feet to 100 square feet.
The former resolution is, at least in part, a response to the fact that our existing ordinance and the challenges it creates have led to zero applications for urban beekeeping in the city since its approval. The latter is an attempt to correct the damage done by an amendment on the council floor during our debate on chickens, and restore our ordinance to something that better reflects best practices. I intend to support both.

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, April 24, 2017

What you may not know: Week of April 24

This week the Appleton Common Council will hold the first round of committee meetings for a new aldermanic year. This year I'm happy to report I'll be representing the 13th District on the following committees and commissions:

  • Safety & Licensing Committee (where I'll be serving as chair for the third year)
  • Finance Committee
  • Fox Cities Transit Commission
I've also previously served as chair of the Central Equipment Agency Review Board, and I'm hoping to be reappointed to that body this week.

A new council year also means our first opportunity to revisit actions taken by previous councils: Our council rules state that a new council can, by resolution, reintroduce any item approved or rejected by the old council. As such, our first notable item this week will probably seem familiar:

Parks & Recreation, Monday, 6 pm

Last week I re-submitted a resolution calling for the City of Appleton to lift its outdated ban on dogs in parks. You may recall that council last discussed this item in July of 2016, and it failed on an 8-6 vote. Two seats on the council have since turned over, making this issue worth exploring again.

This year I've written the resolution to specifically highlight one of the cruxes of the argument in favor of allowing dogs in parks: The city already allows dogs in virtually every other public space (sidewalks, trails, dog-friendly businesses) and already has ordinances in place to govern their and their owners' conduct. We already require dogs to be leashed, we require their owners to pick up after them on public and private spaces, we require the Police Department to be informed in the event of a bite or attack, and we require them to be kept out of spaces where food is being prepared for sale.

Those existing ordinances have been deemed sufficient to allow people and dogs to operate and interact in virtually every public space in the community, and we see very minimal issues from those interactions. As such, I've asked the Parks and Recreation Committee and Common Council to consider lifting the ban on dogs in parks and treating parks as we treat any other public space in this regard.

Allowing dogs in parks also creates a series of positive benefits for the community, including but not limited to:
  • Opportunities for pet owners to further socialize their animals as part of their training process and reduce the risk of future adverse reactions to meeting new people or other animals.
  • Increasing usage of many of the city's less-trafficked parks, reducing the risk of illegal activity in low-traffic spaces.
  • Making the parks a less attractive space for undesired and/or messy wild animals (most notably geese along the Fox River) to congregate.
I recognize this issue will likely be controversial again, and I anticipate this will likely be the first of several times we discuss it again. It has been my experience, however, that the city's ban on dogs in parks makes our community a less attractive place to live for many pet owners who would otherwise happily and responsibly reside here. I'm looking forward to the day when we change that.

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

As you may know, the city and Canadian National Railroad have been involved in discussions for many years about the possibility of the city acquiring unused railroad trestles over the Fox River for use in expanding our waterfront trails. The discussions regarding the possible transition of the trestles have been long and challenging, but this week the Finance Committee will be asked to approve an agreement that would transfer ownership of three such trestles and some surrounding property to the city.

The donation agreement before the Finance Committee this week is 35 pages long (you can see it for yourself at the attachment here, if you like), and reflects years of work to take the next step in making our riverfront a more attractive place for pedestrians and bicyclists. I'm looking forward to seeing it completed.

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, April 17, 2017

What you may not know: Week of April 17

A new year begins for the Appleton Common Council this week, as our two new members will be sworn into office on Tuesday and will have their first full council meeting on Wednesday. On Wednesday night at 6 pm we'll hold our annual council organizational meeting to establish the rules for the new council. At 7 pm or as soon as possible following the conclusion of our first meeting, the council will also meet in our regularly-scheduled session to take up items including the following:

North side subdivision expansion

A few weeks ago I wrote about another proposed addition to the Emerald Valley subdivision, which is north of Highway JJ and west of French Road. The City Plan Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the expansion, which would add eleven new single-family lots.

Expanding this subdivision is the right thing to do for the city as we expand our tax base. I supported this request at Plan Commission and intend to do so again this week, but will again do so with a reminder that continued north side expansion does come with some hidden costs related to city infrastructure. We're already aware of the fact that we're likely soon going to need to purchase an additional fire engine and hire additional firefighters to fully staff Station #6, which covers this area.

Additionally, adding more homes to the northeast corner of the district will likely once again increase the student population, albeit slightly, at Huntley Elementary. While decisions regarding schools are not within my jurisdiction, last week I met with Appleton Area School District officials to relay many of the concerns I've heard about development on the north side as it relates to schools. What I learned is that the district is currently working on a study to analyze their space needs. I will continue to monitor this issue as it progresses.

Diversity Coordinator Position

At our last meeting council approved a request to move our currently vacant Diversity Coordinator position from the Community and Economic Development Department to the Mayor's Office. This week that process continues as council will be asked to act on the Finance Committee's recommendation to move funding from CED to the Mayor's budget to cover the position's salary and benefits.

In the meantime, the position has been re-posted with the updated job description and I'm hopeful we'll have a great candidate filling this role soon.

Urban chickens

A resolution calling for residents of the City of Appleton to be able to keep up to four hens was introduced in October and has now been discussed on eight occasions at the Board of Health and previous Common Council meetings. This week, however, I feel confident that we could finally take a final action on it.

Two weeks ago council voted to reconsider our March 15 vote to approve the resolution. At that time I asked and was granted a request for council to hold the item until this week's meeting and the seating of a new council. Our council rules allow a new council to re-open any decisions made by previous councils, so any vote at our April 5 meeting could have been immediately overturned and put back on the table by a new council. To avoid the risk of making a decision that would only be undone two weeks later, I asked for council to wait to take action until a truly final action was possible.

In the meantime, the Board of Health has voted to recommend approval of a specific set of rules and regulations regarding chickens and that item will also appear on our agenda this week. The specific rules that could come up for discussion and/or amendment include:

  • A limit of four hens, and no roosters.
  • An appeal process to the Board of Health.
The proposed inspection fees ($145 for an initial inspection and a $59 re-permitting fee) have also come up numerous times in debate but are not part of the approved policy, so I'm not sure where they stand as a proposed policy or as a topic for debate this week.

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.