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.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

What you may not know: Week of September 5

Hopefully everyone is back from a safe and happy holiday weekend. The Appleton Common Council will hold our regularly scheduled meeting this Wednesday, and here are some of the highlights from our agenda:

2018 Special Assessments

As I mentioned in my last update, work continues to establish a policy for special assessments for the city's street and utility work for next year. Special assessments for street reconstructions were eliminated when the city's Vehicle Registration Fee (aka "Wheel Tax") was implemented three years ago, but assessments and the related policies remain for the construction of new streets and underground utility work.

Two weeks ago the Finance Committee voted unanimously to approve a proposal that includes one significant change related to homes located on commercially zoned property. Those properties will now be treated the same as R2 (multifamily) properties in regards to assessments. This change was made in response to issues experienced along N. Fair Street following last year's assessments.

Library Process

Also last week the Finance Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of a request for the Appleton Public Library to proceed with work on a Request For Proposals (RFP) for a future mixed-use library. Assuming council votes to proceed with this process, we are expected to see and vote to approve the final RFP before it goes out.

Southside Regional Park

A proposed regional park for an underserved area of the city on the south side has been in discussion for a long time but, for a variety of reasons, has never quite come to fruition. The process of rectifying that issue took a step forward two weeks ago when the Parks & Recreation Committee voted to recommend that staff begin negotiations with property owners to attempt to acquire space for the proposed park. As noted in Madeleine Behr's Post Crescent story, any final agreement or decision to purchase land would require another council vote to approve. However, this represents real progress on a longstanding issue for the first time in a long time and I'm excited to see it moving forward.

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, August 21, 2017

What you may not know: Week of August 20

The Appleton Common Council has a relatively quiet committee week planned with one notable exception:

Finance Committee, Monday, 4:30 pm

As I mentioned two weeks ago and in last week's update, the Finance Committee has begun the work to make a recommendation for the city's 2018 policies for Special Assessments, As I noted two weeks ago, special assessments for street reconstructions were eliminated when the city's Vehicle Registration Fee (aka "Wheel Tax") was implemented three years ago, but assessments and the related policies remain for the construction of new streets and underground utility work.

The major sticking point in this year's discussions and the reason this item was held at Finance two weeks ago is a resolution by Alderman Bill Siebers calling for the city to assign special assessments to properties based on their usage and eliminate the current practice of basing their assessment on their zoning. This discussion began several months ago when council was asked to modify special assessments for properties along N. Fair Street that are residential in nature but received a higher assessment for utility work due to their commercial zoning. At Finance this week we will be asked to make a recommendation on whether we should change the policy for similar properties or continue to take up appeals on a case-by-case basis. I prefer the former, which I feel will allow us to be consistent and fair.

Additionally, this week the Finance Committee has an action item related to a pending Request for Proposals for mixed-use development plans incorporating the Appleton Public Library. This item would not be a commitment to proceed with a mixed-use project but approving it would be a clear indication that the city is on board with continuing to explore this option in conjunction with the Library Board.

Finally, the Finance Committee's agenda also includes requests for the committee to make recommendations on the following:

  • A budget adjustment to allow the Fire Department to move funds from a Training Tower improvement project to pay for additional personal protective equipment for firefighters to fulfill a need outlined in a recent Post Crescent story.
  • A proposed $300,000+ contract with Vinton Construction for trail and riverbank improvements at Lutz Park.
  • A proposed $150,000+ contract with Miron Construction to make additions to the skate park at Telulah Park.
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, August 14, 2017

What you may not know: Week of August 14

The Appleton Common Council will meet on Wednesday at 7 pm (or following the conclusion of one or more committee meetings scheduled to occur before our main meeting). Here are some updates on items we discussed in last week's update that will proceed to council this week:

  • The Municipal Services Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of a new Special Event Parking Fee Rate to help address challenges with large volumes of vehicles trying to exit at the same time following events at the Performing Arts Center.
  • The Municipal Services Committee also voted to deny a resolution from Alderperson Meltzer calling for the city to waive street occupancy permits for businesses looking to install bike racks. I'm still hopeful something can be done in this area.
  • The Finance Committee received favorable reports on the city's planned 2017 borrowing, which includes a total of $19 million between current general fund projects, refinancing of existing general fund debt and capital projects for the stormwater utility. The committee voted unanimously to recommend that the city proceed with the borrowing process.
Additionally, these items discussed last week will not be acted on by council this week for the reasons stated below:
  • The Finance Committee opted to hold the 2018 Special Assessment Policy until next week to address some confusion about process related to a resolution changing the way residential properties within commercial zoned areas are assessed. 
  • The Joint Review Board voted to approve the creation of two new TIF districts, and their action does not require council approval.
Finally, this week's council agenda again includes three consolidated action items related to the discontinuance of Locust Street south of College Avenue. These items, which are part of the city's tentative agreement with Canadian National Railroad regarding the acquisition of unused railroad trestles over the Fox River, have been delayed while the city waits for the railroad to take necessary steps on their end to approve the agreement. Council was ready to proceed with these items a month ago now but has continued to hold them while waiting for Canadian National to respond.

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, August 7, 2017

What you may not know: Week of August 7

It's been a quiet few weeks for the Appleton Common Council, hence my lack of posts: In an effort to maintain a solid signal-to-noise ratio I make an effort not to waste your time or mine producing blog posts on weeks where there isn't much of large public interest going on.

With that said, this week projects to be a busy committee week for the council. Here are some of the meetings of interest:

Municipal Services Committee, Monday, 4:30 pm

This afternoon the Municipal Services Committee will be asked to consider a change to downtown parking rates that could have a significant impact on the traffic ramp users experience when trying to exit downtown following events at the Performing Arts Center.

The city's pay-on-exit parking ramp systems can create long queues of users when large groups of people, including many unfamiliar with the parking ramp infrastructure, all leave the PAC at the same time following a performance or other event. Staff has asked the committee to approve a special parking rate and procedure that would allow ramp users to pay a flat fee on entry when going into the ramp for selected special events, which would hopefully allow pre-paid users to exit the ramp in a more timely fashion and avoid long delays.

In addition, today the Committee will discuss for the first time a resolution submitted by Alderperson Vered Meltzer calling for the city to waive street occupancy fees for businesses wishing to install bike racks in the street right of way. I'm looking forward to learning more about how this could work.

Finance Committee, Monday, 5:30 pm

The Finance Committee has a very busy agenda this week. First, we are expected to receive a final briefing and recommend approval for the city's already-budgeted 2017 borrowing package, which will include just under $14 million in General Obligation Notes (to be repaid by property tax dollars) and $5 million in Storm Water Revenue Bonds (to be repaid by the Stormwater Utility). We also anticipate issuing Water Revenue Bonds (to be repaid by the Water Utility) at a later date this year. These bond issuances are a routine part of our budgeting process, as the time has come to borrow money for capital projects included in the 2017 budget.

Additionally, this week the committee is expected to recommend approval of relocation orders for two properties adjacent to the city's "blue" parking ramp, the ramp immediately adjacent to City Hall. That ramp has reached the end of its usable life and is expected to be demolished in the years ahead, but it shares walls with two neighboring buildings and cannot be torn down independently from those structures. As such, those buildings will also need to be vacated to make way for the project.

Furthermore, this week the Finance Committee is expected to review, potentially amend and make a recommendation related to the city's 2018 special assessment policy. A quick recap of how we arrived here:

  • Special assessments for reconstruction of existing, permanent city streets were eliminated a few years ago when the city's Vehicle Registration Fee (aka "Wheel Tax") was enacted. Revenue from the fee is used to replace the expenses the city used to recover via special assessments in these cases.
  • Special assessments remain in place, however, for utility work, new streets and the transition from temporary to permanent streets. 
This week we will discuss items related to the latter policy and attempt to establish a policy that will allow us to budget for anticipated 2018 projects.

Finally, this week the committee also has an information item related to the process of moving forward for the Appleton Public Library. Last month the Library Board approved a measure calling for the board and the city to work together to explore the possibility of a mixed-use development to include a new library. While we're still very early in this process, there are some jurisdictional challenges and indistinct boundaries between roles that likely need to be ironed out before we can proceed. While that discussion will take place this week, this is only an information item on the agenda and no official action related to the library will be taken at this meeting.

Joint Review Board, Wednesday, 1 pm

In my last update I mentioned proposed plans for the city to create two new Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts, our 11th and 12th such districts in the city. The districts would be generally located on the east and west ends of downtown. Follow that previous link for more details on how TIF financing works. 

The Joint Review Board is made up of representatives from the four taxing entities (the city, Outagamie County, the Appleton Area School District and Fox Valley Technical College) that would be impacted by the development of one or more new TIF districts. In all proposed cases, the taxing entities would not lose revenue but would see their revenue from properties within the TIF district frozen while the "increment," the additional taxes collected on these properties due to their increase in value, is used to repay the borrowing done to create needed improvements in these areas. 

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, 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.