Monday, July 21, 2014

What you may not know: Week of July 21

It's a committee week for the Appleton Common Council, and it might be the busiest one in my year and a half as a member of this body. Normally I try to write about two or three topics here, but this week I can't narrow it down to less than five.

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

As you might have seen in the Post Crescent, the city's policy for painted signs and/or murals on the side of buildings has come under fire recently. The issue came to light when a mural at Wilmar Chocolates was found to be in violation.

In response, at our council meeting three weeks ago five alderpersons co-sponsored a resolution calling for immediate suspension of enforcement of the ordinance and a review of the policy. That resolution comes before the City Plan Commission on Monday.

I suspect the resolution will pass at committee, as it only calls for a temporary halt to enforcement to give us time to review the policy. The next step, the actual policy review, is likely to present a more interesting challenge. Allowing murals like the one at Wilmar is a no-brainer, but if we allow painted signs in this instance because they're art, then we put ourselves in the position of having to determine what is or is not art.

This is likely only the first step in a long conversation on this issue.

Central Equipment Agency Review Committee, Tuesday, 4 pm

Two weeks ago at the Safety & Licensing Committee we learned for the first time about an issue with one of Appleton's largest and most expensive fire trucks, our 100-foot aerial platform truck. The torque box which holds up the platform had cracked, and could take several months to repair. This is the only truck of its kind in the city, although a couple of our neighboring communities also have one.

The discovery of this issue has led to a re-evaluation of our options with this truck. The truck is 14 years old and was scheduled to be replaced in 2020. It's become increasingly expensive to repair, and the need for frequent maintenance will take it out of commission more and more often as it continues to age.

As such, it's time to start looking at the possibility of replacing this truck early instead of continuing to pour money into an asset that's near the end of its life cycle. There is the possibility in place to buy a stock unit from Pierce Manufacturing for $920,000, which is about $300-$500,000 less than it would cost to buy a custom unit but about $200,000 more than the combined balance of the money saved for the purchase of a new truck and the trade-in value of the existing truck. That overrun would have to be borrowed or come out of the city's fund balances for us to be able to make this move.

Borrowing and/or digging into fund balances to replace a piece of equipment early isn't something we want to do if we can avoid it, but in this case it appears to be a fiscally prudent move. Furthermore, there is a safety factor to consider: Buying the stock unit from Pierce, as recommended by staff, is the quickest way to have an operational truck in place and helping protect our community.

Assuming this item passes the CEA Review Committee, it will also appear as an action item before the Finance and Safety & Licensing Committees on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.

Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

I've written previously about the five latest streets being discussed as part of Appleton's on-street bike plan. A month ago three alderpersons called for portions of Capitol Drive, Prospect Avenue, Roemer Road, N. Oneida Street and Telulah Avenue to have bike lanes installed in the coming years to help add connectivity of lanes when other portions of those streets or nearby streets are reconstructed. That resolution was held at the June 24 meeting and will be heard again on Tuesday night.

Bike lanes have been one of the more challenging topics we've heard during my time on the council, as we've frequently heard from people who have a wide variety of opinions on the city's responsibility to create bicycle-friendly infrastructure and what it means to do so.

Four months ago I made a list of frequently-asked questions regarding bike lanes, and odds are we'll answer many of those questions again on Tuesday.

Finance Committee, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

A pair of longstanding council topics will take center stage at this meeting. First, we have a request to approve what's called a "Resolution of Necessity" for the city to purchase two properties that could combine to become the future home of the Appleton Public Library.

There has been a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding making the rounds on this topic, and this Post Crescent Community Column clears up a fair amount of it. The city is not planning on and has no interest in "forcing out" either Michiels or Trinity. The eminent domain process being used is a legal necessity to help those two properties determine the value of their space and make an informed decision about how to proceed. If they turn out to be unwilling to sell, the city will likely proceed with other options.

At any rate, the next step in that process is for the Finance Committee and council to approve the "necessity" of purchasing the sites, allowing the city and the library to continue efforts to acquire them. I expect the committee to approve on Wednesday, and the council will take the matter up next week.

Second, we have the next portion of our long-standing review of Appleton's policies regarding special assessments. Last week council wrapped up the new subdivision portion of the policy, and this week we'll start our review of the utilities.

The utilities portion of special assessments don't draw as much attention as the street reconstruction section, but repairs and related work can still be pretty expensive. I'm eager to see what possibilities we may discuss to make adjustments here.

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. Making the council's activity as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested is part of my goal to make it easier for more people to get involved with issues that matter to them.

Monday, July 14, 2014

What you may not know: Week of July 14

The Appleton Common Council will meet on Wednesday at 7 pm to take up items that mostly appeared before committees last week, so it's time for updates on items I've covered recently:

Parking for Mile of Music 2:

Last Tuesday the Municipal Services Committee voted 3-2 to recommend denial of a resolution calling for parking meter enforcement to cease for four days during Mile of Music in August. Concerns expressed included the challenges of getting parking spaces to turn over and be available without meter enforcement, the relative unfairness of waiving parking meters for this event but not others, challenges involved in making people aware of the lack of need to plug meters and more. That resolution will come before council Wednesday night.

Special Assessments, New Subdivision Portion:

Last Wednesday the Finance Committee again voted 3-1 to recommend approval of a modified version of the New Subdivision portion of the city's Special Assessment policy. The changes would move the responsibility for paying for the installation of permanent streets in a new subdivision from the developers (who had been either tacking it onto the price of new lots or charging property owners later) to the property owners themselves. The proposed new policy mirrors one the city had up until 2004.

This is the only part of the special assessment policy we'll be addressing at council on Wednesday. Assuming we reach a final resolution on this, we'll be taking up the utilities portion of the policy at Finance next Wednesday.

Wheel Tax:

Last week the Finance Committee voted to hold a proposal calling for Appleton to institute a "Wheel Tax" as a potential funding source for street repairs. That item will be revisited when the committee discusses the street reconstruction portion of the special assessment policy, likely in a month or so.

Finally, we do have one piece of new business on our agenda this week:

Minimum Wage Referendum:

The City Clerk's office recently received a petition with well over 4700 signatures calling for yet another advisory referendum in this fall's election. This one asks whether voters would be in favor of raising Wisconsin's minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. This would be the second advisory referendum added to Appleton's ballot, and a third has been added by Outagamie County.

Advisory referendums do not change policy in any way, but they are one way to measure and document voter support (or lack of support) for an issue or proposed policy change. Out of respect to the work that went into collecting all of these petition signatures, I plan on supporting their desire to have this question appear on the ballot.

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. Making the council's activity as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested is part of my goal to make it easier for more people to get involved with issues that matter to them.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What you may not know: Week of July 7

Please accept my apologies for this week's belated post (and no post last week). I'm just getting back from a few days away over the holiday and working on catching up today.

With that said, the Appleton Common Council's first committee week of July is underway, and here are some of the items on my radar:

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

The much-maligned downtown parking meters will step back into the spotlight at tonight's Municipal Services meeting, where an action item and an informational item will discuss a temporary and permanent change to their enforcement.

First, the committee will take up a resolution submitted by four alderpersons at last week's council meeting calling for meter enforcement to cease during the active hours of Mile of Music 2, scheduled for August 7-10. The rationale is that the event will bring many first-time visitors to our downtown, and we'd rather not have a parking ticket be part of their introduction to the city.

The resolution also likely creates some additional challenges, though. For example, if we remove parking enforcement downtown during the event, what will keep someone from claiming a prime parking space on the first hour of the event and staying there all day (or all weekend?). Part of the attraction of the meters is their ability to keep spaces turning over, so people coming downtown have a better chance of finding a spot. 

I'm intrigued to hear the debate on this proposal. Allowing free parking during this event could be a good thing, if it can be done without creating major challenges.

The information item is one we've discussed before: Alderperson Kathy Plank's resolution calling for staff to study the possibility of removing meters downtown. This item was previously held until a full downtown parking study could be completed, but is back on the agenda this week. I'll be curious to see if there are any updates on the possibility.

Finance, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

Beyond the parking debate, virtually all of this week's major news is likely to come from Wednesday afternoon's Finance Committee meeting. Items on the agenda include:
  • The "New Subdivision" portion of the special assessment policy. Two weeks ago the committee voted unanimously to amend the plan to call for property owners in new subdivisions to be assessed for the installation of their permanent streets, as we did for subdivisions platted before 2004. From 2004 until now developers have been asked to place money in an escrow account to pay for that eventual construction. The portion of the policy we will debate on Wednesday deals only with new subdivisions. Portions dealing with reconstruction of streets and utilities will be discussed at later meetings.
  • Alderman Joe Martin's resolution calling for the city to institute a "Wheel Tax" of not more than $20 per vehicle to cover the loss of revenue if the city elected to eliminate special assessments. We're still in the very early stages of considering this proposal and it's not my favorite alternative to the existing assessment policy, but it is an option to consider and I'm glad we're getting the opportunity to discuss it.
  • A staff recommendation calling for the contract to construct the new Telulah Park Skate Park to be awarded to Miron Construction Company. This project has been sent out for bids once before but all of the bids were rejected as they greatly exceeded our budget for this item. On our second try we were able to get bids that more accurately reflect what we're prepared to spend. Assuming this request passes the committee and council, construction is expected to begin in early August and be completed in the fall.
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. Making the council's activity as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested is part of my goal to make it easier for more people to get involved with issues that matter to them.

Monday, June 23, 2014

What you may not know: Week of June 23

We've come to another committee week for the Appleton Common Council, and here are some of the items of interest on this week's agendas:

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 p.m.

A few weeks ago I mentioned a proposed resolution calling for bike lanes to be added to portions of five streets in the coming years to help enhance the connectivity of our bike infrastructure as reconstructions appear on nearby segments of street. The resolution was held at the May 27 committee meeting, but will come up again on Tuesday night. Again, a reminder of the streets that will be discussed:
  • Portions of Capitol Drive in 2014, the remainder in 2015.
  • Portions of Prospect Avenue in 2015.
  • Roemer Road in 2015.
  • N. Oneida Street in 2015.
  • Telulah Avenue in 2018.
All of these projects would require the removal of some or all on-street parking, so they're likely to stir up some debate. Tuesday night's meeting is likely the first step in a long conversation on this matter.

Finance, Wednesday, 4:30 p.m.

Our ongoing review of the city's special assessment policy continues on Wednesday when a portion of the policy dealing with new subdivisions will appear as an action item for the first time.

About a decade ago the city changed its policy regarding special assessments in new subdivisions. In subdivisions platted before 2004 the city had assessed homeowners for the installation of their streets, sidewalks and boulevard trees. In 2004 those expenses were shifted to the developer with the understanding that the costs would be built into the price of lots in new subdivisions.

Now, as part of our review of the special assessment policy, we're hearing that building those costs into the price of lots is making it difficult for Appleton's subdivisions to remain price-competitive with neighboring municipalities. We've been asked to consider going back to the old format, and we'll discuss the possibility on Wednesday. 

Looking further ahead, we're expecting to discuss the special assessment policy as it pertains to utilities at our first Finance Committee meeting in July and hoping to take up the portion dealing with street reconstruction at our second meeting of the month.

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. Making the council's activity as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested is part of my goal to make it easier for more people to get involved with issues that matter to them.

Monday, June 16, 2014

What you may not know: Week of June 16

The Appleton Common Council will meet on Wednesday night at 7 pm, and most of the notable items on our agenda have been discussed in this space before. Before I get to the updates, however, I'd like to take a moment to address an item that's appearing before us for the first time, the "Move to Amend" petition.

On May 29 organizers filed a petition with the City of Appleton showing 4514 valid signatures and calling for the following resolution to be either adopted outright or appear on the ballot as a referendum in an upcoming election:

Whereas, the Supreme Court's decisions in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commision and related case law allowed unlimited spending to influence local, state and federal elections;

BE IT RESOLVED that "We the People" of the City of Appleton, Wisconsin, call for reclaiming democracy from the expansion of corporate personhood rights and the corrupting influence of unregulated political contributions and spending. We stand with the Move to Amend campaign and communities across the country supporting passage of an amendment to the United States Constitution stating:

  1. Only human beings - not corporations, limited liability companies, unions, nonprofit organizations, or similar associations - are endowed with constitutional rights; and
  2. Money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we hereby instruct our state and federal representatives to enact resolutions and legislation to advance this effort.

Frequent readers of this space may recall that I have a history with the fight to get big money out of politics. As such, I'm planning on supporting this petition.

Moving on, here are quick updates from the items I discussed last week:

Foremost Dairy site

Last week the Community and Economic Development Committee voted unanimously (3-0 with two members absent) to approve a development agreement with Vetter Denk Ganthet that would allow them to build several buildings combining for 96 residential units on the former Foremost Dairy site just south of the College Avenue bridge on the Fox River.

Despite the unanimous vote, some concerns remain about this development's impact on the existing neighborhood and the existing infrastructure's ability to take on this extra load. I suspect this agreement will eventually pass, either at this meeting or potentially the next one, but I do hope we'll continue to do everything we can to ensure all of our bases are covered here.

Sidewalk cafes

Last week the Safety & Licensing Committee reached a bit of an impasse on proposed changes for the regulation of sidewalk cafes serving alcohol along College Avenue. Appleton Downtown Inc. had previously approached the committee to ask us to remove two restrictions:
  1. A requirement that a server be outdoors at all times when alcohol is being served outside, and
  2. A requirement that a decorative barrier be in place around the cafe to clearly display where the cafe begins and ends and, as such, where alcohol is and is not allowed.
At the committee meeting last week I proposed an amendment that would have removed the first requirement but left the second one in place. I do think the barriers are important as a small, relatively non-intrusive step to clearly define boundaries for alcohol and the cafe. That amendment failed by a 2-2 vote*. The original resolution, unamended, then also failed by a 2-2 vote. 

As such, council will take up this item on Wednesday with a recommendation for denial from the committee. I'm still hopeful we can reach a compromise on this before casting a final vote, but I'm not inclined to support it if waiving both requirements is the only option.

* - For an amendment or action item to pass it must receive a majority vote. So a tie vote counts as a denial.

Downtown parking

Last week I mentioned a pending conversation regarding the possibility that parking meters could be removed downtown and replaced with two-hour parking and technological upgrades that would allow us to better enforce parking regulations.

In the end, however, that conversation was delayed to allow it to coincide with a parking study that will happen this summer. As such, this issue is on hold for now.

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. Making the council's activity as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested is part of my goal to make it easier for more people to get involved with issues that matter to them.

Monday, June 9, 2014

What you may not know: Week of June 9

The Appleton Common Council has a busy committee week planned and I'm a little behind telling you about it, so let's get right to the updates:

Community and Economic Development, Monday, 5 pm 

For months now the city and the Appleton Redevelopment Authority have been reviewing plans for a potential development on the site of the city's former Foremost Dairy plant, on the Fox River just south of the College Avenue bridge. Today that effort will take another step as staff is recommending the Community and Economic Development Committee approve a development agreement with Vetter Denk Ganther that would allow a housing development of between 90-100 units to be constructed on this site.

Redevelopment of this site carries some clear benefits for the city, as getting this property back on the tax rolls would help city revenues in the long term and also assist in repaying some of the costs incurred while remediating the site. There are, however, some issues to consider when putting a large development adjacent to an existing neighborhood. The issues largely center around the fact that the entire development (and potentially its emergency needs) will need to be served by one narrow street that currently is frequently parked up on both sides for Lawrence students and visitors. One side of parking on the street is likely to be removed to help ease the challenge.

This narrow street and the proposed changes to it create some potential safety, emergency access and parking issues that need to be addressed. However, if those concerns can be resolved I think this development poses a remarkable opportunity to help a valuable, long-vacant space evolve into its next use.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

Parking challenges downtown have been a longstanding impediment for many residents both inside and outside the city who would otherwise utilize many of the area's attractions. It's possible that a new approach to parking downtown could be coming soon, and we'll hear more about it at Tuesday night's Municipal Services meeting.

To this point policing non-metered time limit parking has posed a manpower challenge, as it requires multiple visits to document that a car is present in a space and come back later to potentially issue a citation for the car still occupying that space, if they're still there. However, the technology exists now to make that documentation much simpler with license plate scanners. Applying this system across downtown could allow us to remove parking meters and simply install two-hour parking in its place, while still having the ability to ensure two-hour parking regulations are followed.

Of course, implementing a plan like this will come with a cost and any new technological installation will have its hiccups. Additionally, there will likely be some surveillance concerns as devices will be logging license plates to track parking space usage. I'm looking forward to hearing conversation on the pros and cons of this possibility. For this meeting this is only an information item, so no action will be taken.

Safety & Licensing, Thursday, 5 pm

Outdoor dining has been a growing trend in our downtown area, but regulating alcohol served outside has posed a significant challenge over time. Our current ordinance allows bars with a Special Use permit to serve alcohol on the amenity strip in front of their building provided the area is enclosed with some kind of decorative barrier and a server is outside to keep an eye on the area.

Those restrictions serve a purpose, of course, but they also create situations where sometimes the temporary barriers have to go up and a server has to be stationed outside just so one or two people can use the space. A few weeks ago Appleton Downtown Inc. approached us to ask us to consider revisions to the rules listed above.

I'm torn on this issue. I can understand the business' reluctance to station a server outside just to supervise one or two tables, and can support the request to remove that requirement provided the establishments are still able to monitor the outdoor tables in some way. I'm more reluctant to allow the removal of the barrier, however. I think having some kind of enclosure around the outdoor cafe, even if it's just a rope, provides a clear indication of where alcohol is and is not allowed and creates one more impediment, even if it is a small one, to prevent people on the sidewalk from passing through the cafe and within arm's reach of someone's drink or purse.

We've been asked to consider changes to these ordinances at least partly because existing sidewalk cafe owners have done a good job of preventing these outdoor spaces from becoming an issue. I can respect that and thank them for their responsibility, but I think some safeguards need to remain in place to prevent this from developing into a problem 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. Making the council's activity as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested is part of my goal to make it easier for more people to get involved with issues that matter to them.

Monday, June 2, 2014

What you may not know: Week of June 2

The Appleton Common Council will hold its first regularly scheduled meeting of June on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Most of the notable items on this week's agenda have been discussed before, but here's a quick update:

City Plan Commission

Over a month ago the City Plan Commission heard a staff recommendation regarding a rezoning and special use permit request for a property along Glenhurst Road, just off Ballard. The request called for an amendment to allow a "Community Living Arrangement" serving 50 persons on the site.

At the Plan Commission back in April we expressed some concerns over the relatively broad definition of what could be allowed in this space in relatively close proximity to North High School. We approved an amendment to narrow the allowed uses a bit, then recommended approval of the amended item. It will come before the full council for approval this week.

Valley Transit

Also about a month ago, we discussed a proposal to raise the fee by a dollar for one of Valley Transit's most popular specialized services, The Connector. The service is largely used to get people to or from work in the early and late hours while Transit isn't operating its full service.

The service had been partially funded by specialized federal grant money until this year, when that grant was rolled into the federal transportation fund. Losing that funding made it difficult for Valley Transit to continue to provide this service, hence the need for a fare increase.

This issue has been discussed at each of the last three Transit Commission meetings, and at last week's meeting it was approved unanimously. Barring a major change, it will likely also pass council without incident this week and the increase will go into effect.

Skate Park

In last week's update we discussed a setback in the efforts to build a skate park in Telulah Park, as bids were opened for the construction and all of them came in significantly over the project's proposed budget. As such, last week the Finance Committee voted unanimously to reject all bids, with the hope to bid the project again later this summer and still get it constructed this year.

The delay on this project is unfortunate, given the volume of work that has gone into getting it to this point. At the end of the day, however, rejecting the bids is the right decision and there's a strong chance it will only lead to a minor delay.

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. Making the council's activity as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested is part of my goal to make it easier for more people to get involved with issues that matter to them.