Monday, September 26, 2016

What you may not know: Week of September 26

It's a busy committee week for the Appleton Common Council, and here are some of the items of interest:

Parks and Recreation, Monday, 6 pm

On Monday evening the Parks and Recreation Committee will be asked to make a recommendation on a request to make modifications to the city's Recreation Program Fee Waiver Policy. The goal of the policy is to ensure that all of the city's children have access to recreation programs and activities, including our two pools, regardless of household income.

The updated policy, however, contains some language I find somewhat troubling in the definition of "family." Under the updated policy, a child would be required to live at an address greater than 50% of the time to be eligible for "family" benefits. As someone who grew up with divorced parents, I have experience leading to both philosophical and practical issues regarding this suggested policy.

I'm hopeful that the committee will reconsider these proposed changes.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

In my last two updates (last week and two weeks ago) I've mentioned a dozen streets coming up for reconstruction in 2018 that were coming up for design approval. Ten of those 12 streets were approved at council last week but two, Mary Street and Catherine Street, were referred back to committee for further discussion around proposed compromises.

Both of these streets are in an older portion of the city where we come across a frequent issue: The trees planted along the terrace are large enough and have deep and wide enough root structures that it's very difficult to reconstruct the existing street at its current width without having to remove them. This creates a difficult choice, as saving the trees usually means narrowing the streets and creating issues related to parking and access.

Community and Economic Development, Wednesday, 5 pm

In my last two updates I've also mentioned the city's ongoing Community Development Block Grant process, which this year includes a city staff request to allocate $200,000 for land acquisition for a "small house community."

We first heard about this request two weeks ago, and at council last week I referred it back to committee for further discussion related to the following questions:

  • Staff has chosen to call these proposed homes "small" instead of "tiny," but I'd like more clarity on what that means in terms of square footage.
  • Currently, the city's zoning code does not allow new construction houses to be less than 900 square feet. At committee two weeks ago I received conflicting answers regarding what would need to be done to allow for a project involving smaller homes.
  • The city's portion of this project is slated for property acquisition, but I have yet to hear if that means we'll be owning the properties long term, donating them or selling them. If we're selling them, I do not know where the proceeds would go.
  • The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who oversees these grants, requires that projects meet several criteria to ensure they're helping low-to-moderate income people. I do not know what, if any, steps we can take or plan on taking to ensure these properties end up with those that need help.
I'm looking forward to a robust continued conversation on this topic.

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, September 19, 2016

What you may not know: Week of September 19

The Appleton Common Council will meet for our regularly scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday night, but we have a busy week of special meetings between now and then:

Appleton Redevelopment Authority, Tuesday, 10 am

On Tuesday the Appleton Redevelopment Authority has been called to review and consider approval of a development agreement for the former Foremost Dairy site along the Fox River, just south of the College Avenue bridge.

The proposed agreement with Alexander Company & Iconica calls for a senior living facility with approximately 99 units to be constructed on the site in Phase 1, with a projected assessed value of $15.7 million. The second phase could add an additional ~$2 million in assessed value via single-family homes or condominiums.

The agreement also includes financial assistance for the project via Tax Increment Financing, or TIF. The city's TIF contribution would be 25% of the tax increment value of Phases 1 and 2, not to exceed $4,267,500.

Tax Increment Financing is a frequently used tool to spur development in places where it would not happen without some level of assistance. It's a somewhat complicated process, but here's a quick attempt to explain it:

  1. The value of a property or collection of properties (and as such, its existing tax contribution) is determined. The amount of property tax revenue generated by that property is frozen for a period of time. 
  2. At this point the municipality involved (in our case, the city) can borrow against the "increment," the increased revenue they will receive in the future due to the increased value of this area.
  3. As the value of the property rises due to the development, the increased tax revenue generated by its increased value is used to pay off the debt.
It seems like there's a frequent misconception about how this process works: In the case of tax increment financing, no general fund (citywide property tax) dollars are used. The borrowing is contained and repaid by the TIF district, and does not impact the city's overall tax structure.

Community and Economic Development Committee, Wednesday, 6:30 pm

Elsewhere in significant transactions, on Wednesday the Community and Economic Development Committee will meet in special session to make a recommendation on staff's request to purchase 19.41 acres of property along the city's northwest boundary in the Town of Grand Chute. Assuming the purchase goes through, the property would be annexed into Appleton.

The requested selling price for the property, located at 210 W. Edgewood Drive, is $610,000 including due dilligence costs. That figure could go down if initial wetland delineation shows that large portions of the property would not be buildable. The funds needed for this purchase would come from the city's Industrial Park Land Fund and would not impact the general fund or property taxes.

Maintaining an adequate supply of commercial and industrial property for future development is critical to the ongoing growth of the city. Combined with a recently purchased property adjacent to this one, the city would have slightly less than 25 new acres, pending wetland delineation and utility connections, available in future years.

Common Council, Wednesday, 7 pm

Wednesday's Common Council meeting may be delayed due to a pair of special committee meetings scheduled to happen before we get started. With that said, once the meeting gets started our agenda will include the following items we discussed in last week's update:
  • Last week the Finance Committee voted unanimously to recommend rejecting all bids on the Water Garden Redevelopment Project at the Scheig Center in Memorial Park due to bids coming in well over budget. In the meantime we've been able to do some of this work in-house and will have a smaller project to bid out next spring.
  • The Municipal Services Committee also voted unanimously to recommend approval of the designs for 12 streets scheduled for reconstruction during the 2018 road construction season.
  • The Community and Economic Development Committee voted to recommend approval of the city's portion of the 2017 Community Development Block Grant funding, including $200,000 towards a "small house development."
Of those three, the third is the only item I expect to be controversial at this week's meeting. Committee discussion on the Block Grant topic raised several important points, including the fact that our existing zoning code does not allow the types of structures that our "small house development" would likely entail. I'm looking forward to more discussion to learn more about this topic.


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, September 12, 2016

What you may not know: Week of September 12

The Appleton Common Council has a nearly full slate of committee meetings scheduled for this week, and here are some of the highlights:

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm:

On Tuesday the Finance Committee will be asked to make recommendations regarding the proposed awarding of several city contracts for work this fall, and one proposed rejection of bids.

The proposed rejection is for a project to redevelop the water garden at the Scheig Center in Memorial Park. The 2016 budget included $65,000 for the removal of the boardwalk and reconstruction of the water feature at that facility as part of an effort to improve accessibility and maintainability in that area. Unfortunately, the project received two bids and the lowest was $164,608.66, nearly $100,000 above budget.

Early indications show that the timing of this project may have been an issue, as contractors who decided to bid are heavily booked through the end of the year and may have built overtime labor rates and other premium costs into the bids.

Assuming the committee and council follow staff's recommendation to reject all bids, this project will likely be postponed to 2017 and re-bid in the spring.

Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

As we near the end of road construction season, it's time to start looking ahead to future projects. This week the Municipal Services Committee will be asked to approve design recommendations for 12 streets scheduled for reconstruction during the summer of 2018:

  • Lynndale Drive, from Leonard Street to Everett Street
  • Lincoln Street, from Olde Oneida Street to 230 feet east of Olde Oneida Street
  • Marquette Street, from Division Street to Oneida Street
  • Summer Street, from Morrison Street to Drew Street
  • Catherine Street, from Washington Street to North Street
  • Mary Street, from North Street to Pacific Street
  • The alley west of Perkins Street, from Charles Street to Perkins Street
  • Kamps Avenue, from Fire Station #5 to to Douglas Street
  • Drew Street, from Glendale Avenue to Pershing Street
  • Sanders Street, from Seymour Street to Verbrick Street
  • Reeve Street, from Linwood Street to Badger Avenue
  • Winnebago Street, from Linwood Street to Badger Avenue
Holding design hearings for these projects as early as possible is important because it gives us time to make any necessary changes or discuss for as long as we need without having to worry about deadlines for the following year's budget or issuing construction contracts. Again, these projects are scheduled for the summer of 2018.

Brief summaries of the recommended designs for each street are available here, in each item's description. If you have any further questions, I'd recommend you contact the Department of Public Works or email me (district13@appleton.org) and I can refer your question to someone who will be able to answer it.

Community and Economic Development, Wednesday, 5 pm

Finally, as budget season approaches, so too begins work on the 2017 Community Development Block Grant process. This week the Community and Economic Development Committee will hold a public hearing for constituent input on priorities for the available dollars and take the first steps to allocate an estimated $528,000 in available federal funds.

A portion of that money is proposed, per usual, to find several city projects that meet the funding guidelines of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development:
  • $80,290 for the city's Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program
  • $60,000 for the Appleton Housing Authority
  • $40,282 for the city's administrative costs for grant disbursement and monitoring.
Additionally, the Community and Economic Development Department is asking for $200,000 to fund property acquisition for a proposed "small home community." The initial goal for this project is to create five affordable housing units.

If this project is approved it will leave $147,428 available for local agencies to apply to receive at a future date. Last year the award process for these remaining funds was very competitive: Even after one applicant rescinded their request and another received no funding, four subrecipients of grant funding still received significantly less than their original request.

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, August 22, 2016

What you may not know: Week of August 22

The Appleton Common Council is back in action this week with a partial schedule of committee meetings, and one item that will likely dominate the conversation:

Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

Months ago I mentioned that the city included funds in the 2016 budget for a look into the possibility of becoming a Railroad Quiet Zone and eliminating the loud train horns that can be heard in large portions of the city during the day and night. As you may have heard, our consultant has come back with their recommendations and this week the Municipal Services Committee will be asked for the first time to make a recommendation on their proposal.

This project required a full review of two dozen rail crossings in the city, and a review of the work that would be necessary to meet the minimum safety requirements to allow for trains to pass through without needing to sound their horns. At many crossings, the necessary work involves the installation of raised medians to prevent cars from going around the gates to cross the tracks. In one case, on Locust Street between College Avenue and Lawrence Street, the proposal does call for the closing of a street.

All told, the consultant's recommended series of improvements would cost around $785,000 and would have a pair of noticeable benefits:

  • The risk of train-related accidents at crossings in the city would be reduced around 14%, with a "risk index" decrease from 12,103 to 9777.
  • The entire train corridor through the city, from Prospect Avenue on the west end to Ballard Road on the east, would become a quiet zone.
For several districts in the central city, this is a pretty significant quality of life issue. While the trains are unlikely to ever be fully silent, eliminating train horns (especially during the overnight hours) should have a pretty significant impact on nearby residents and could result in an increase in property values down the road.

With that said, a proposed price tag of around $800,000 is also a significant expenditure and will likely generate a fair amount of discussion. I'm curious to see where this will go. The earliest this item could come before the full common council for a vote is Wednesday, September 7.

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, August 2, 2016

What you may not know: Week of August 2

My apologies for a brief update this week, as (in my opinion) the most notable items coming before the Appleton Common Council at our regularly scheduled meeting this week are unlikely to be controversial. Here's a quick update on the action items I discussed in last week's post:

  • The Finance Committee unanimously recommended the 2017 Special Assessment policy for approval. The policy features at best minimal changes from what is currently in place for this year. The most newsworthy note to come from that discussion was a report that the revenue generated by the Wheel Tax is effectively replacing revenue lost by eliminating special assessments for street reconstruction, as intended.
  • The Community and Economic Development Committee also voted unanimously to approve a redistribution of 2016 Community Development Block Grant funding in response to one sub-recipient rescinding their request. The new proposal spreads an additional $15,460 between STEP Industries, Harbor House, Homeless Connections and LEAVEN.
Last week's most notable discussion, however, likely came at the Municipal Services Committee where we learned for the first time what it might take to make Appleton a 24-hour quiet zone for trains. Madeleine Behr of the Appleton Post Crescent did a great job outlining that presentation, which will likely generate much more discussion going forward. 

The short version of the story is that it is projected to cost somewhere between $600,000-$800,000 to improve safety measures at the city's 23 railroad crossings to qualify for quiet zone status. Some of those improvements could require closing a crossing, while others would include safety measures intended to make it more difficult or impossible to go around safety gates at crossings.

No official action will be taken on this item this week, but I thought it merited mentioning as an item that will likely generate significant discussion in the future.

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, July 25, 2016

What you may not know: Week of July 25

The last full week of July is also a committee week for the Appleton Common Council, and here are some of the items of interest on various agendas:

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

As part of the city's annual budget process, the Finance Committee and Common Council are asked to approve the city's special assessment policies for the following year during the summer. It's important that we take this up as early as possible because any changes could have 2017 budgetary implications.

The number of people impacted and the depth of impact felt due to special assessments has greatly decreased in recent years with the implementation of Appleton's wheel tax, which replaced the revenue lost by the elimination of assessments for street repairs. However, some assessments remain and, if any alderperson would like to propose changes to the system this is the time to do so. Personally, I have no amendments planned.

Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

Efforts to turn the City of Appleton into a "Railroad Quiet Zone" will take a step forward on Tuesday night as the Municipal Services Committee receives a study from SRF Consulting Group on what it would take to make this happen. While the railroad does not run through or significantly impact the 13th district, I still frequently receive complaints about the volume and timing of train horns in the city and can only imagine the number of complaints received by alderpersons in districts with tracks running through. I'm looking forward to seeing what it would take to alleviate this issue.

Community and Economic Development, Wednesday, 5 pm

Back in March the Common Council voted to approve a recommendation to allocate around $500,000 in federal dollars available through the Community Development Block Grant program based on the results of an extended application process and review. Unfortunately, some unforeseen circumstances are going to require us to reopen that discussion this week.

One of the measures the federal government uses to gauge the effective use of grant dollars is timely expenditure: Grant dollars are supposed to be given to projects that can start quickly and expend the money within a program year. In this case, that creates an issue for one subrecipient that is experiencing an unexpected delay in a program due to changing state regulations. On Wednesday the committee will be asked to recommend approval of a reallocation plan that reassigns that subrecipient's funds among four other organizations that did not receive their entire request. Here's a quick breakdown of the new allocations:

  • STEP Industries requested $30,000 and will now receive $24,398.50, up from $12,384.
  • Harbor House requested $27,500 and will now receive $22,383.50, up from $21,085.
  • Homeless Connections requested $20,000 and will now receive $16,758.50, up from $15,460.
  • LEAVEN requested $20,000 and will now receive $16,758.50, up from $15,460.
  • NAMI had previously requested $23,400 and was awarded $15,460, but has since rescinded their request.

This process is challenging because we receive so many worthwhile proposals for what to do with the money we have available, and we very rarely have the resources available to fund any of the Public Service requests in full. However, we remain grateful to the applicant organizations for their work in our community and do our best to distribute the funds available in an equitable fashion.

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, July 18, 2016

What you may not know: Week of July 18

The Appleton Common Council will hold its regularly scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday at 7 pm. Both of this week's most notable (in my opinion) action items were discussed in last week's update, so I hope you won't mind that all I have this week is a brief update on their status:

  • On Monday the Parks and Recreation Committee voted 3-0 to recommend denial of a resolution calling for the city to allow leashed dogs in parks. I remain in favor of this change and I'm proud to be joined by over 700 petition signers, the Fox Cities Convention and Visitor's Bureau and Appleton Downtown Incorporated in supporting a change to our dated, fear-driven policies.
  • On Tuesday the Municipal Services Committee voted 4-0 to recommend approval of a request calling for the yield signs at the corner of Alexander and Lindbergh St (the northeast corner of Huntley Elementary School) to be changed to stop signs. This should pass council without debate or incident.
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.