Monday, December 9, 2013

What you may not know: Week of December 9

Once we finish digging out from the most recent snowstorm, the Appleton Common Council has a very busy committee week ahead of us. Here are some of the things I'll be watching:

Human Resources, Monday, 6 pm

The Human Resources committee meets Monday at 6 pm but the most interesting item on their agenda may actually have more to do with Parks and Recreation. P&R Director Dean Gazza is requesting the city's Golf Course Superintendent position, which oversees Reid Golf Course, be expanded from .85 to 1.0 full time equivalent, costing the city an additional $20,000+ annually.

The argument for the change is that "A need exists for the Golf Course Superintendent to provide on-site expertise and daily oversight of the entire golf course operation," according to Director Gazza. Currently, much of the oversight for the contractor hired to manage the clubhouse is handled by Director Gazza and the Parks Planner/Liaison.

2014 is a critical year for the golf course, as it reopens as an 18-hole course for the first time after being a nine-hole facility for all of 2013. Even with that exciting development, though, the 2014 budget calls for revenues to exceed expenses at the course by less than $5000. It's a challenging time to be running a golf course. I guess you could make a case that that's why this move is so important, but it's also why it's hard to justify making the investment.

I haven't decided where I am on this yet. I'm looking forward to hearing discussion about it on Monday.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

Many of this week's big stories are likely to come from this meeting. The Municipal Services Committee has eleven action items on their agenda, including the following:

  • A request to add decorative street lighting to the Skyline (Oneida Street) bridge when it's reconstructed in 2015. The estimated cost to add the lights is $160,000.
  • Approval of the city's suggested policy for exchanging recycling carts for citizens who want to move to a smaller size.
  • Approval of several options for $175,246 in undesignated 2014 budget money for street construction or reconstruction.
And, of course, if you've been reading the Post Crescent you know that I have a resolution coming before this committee dealing with the possibility of relaxing the city's snow shoveling policy during the holidays.

The city ordinance, as it currently stands, requires all property owners to clear their sidewalks within 36 hours of the end of a snowfall. That policy works fine during normal days but, in my opinion, it creates a potential hardship during the busiest and most stressful travel times of the year.

I've proposed a rule change that would extend the shoveling deadline from 36 to 72 hours if a snowfall occurs from Wednesday-Sunday on the week of Thanksgiving or between December 24 and January 1. I feel like this will make it one step easier for property owners to travel for the holidays without the added stress of having to either come home early or find someone to clear their sidewalks during the holidays if it happens to snow while they're gone.

The snow clearing ordinance represents a balance between two pressing needs: The need for our citizens to have safe, passable sidewalks to walk on and the need of our property owners to have adequate time to clear them without potentially facing a bill from the city for noncompliance. I think our current policy is fair in most situations, but I also think we can do more to be understanding of people's challenging schedules during the busiest time of the year.

Parks and Recreation, Wednesday, 6 pm

As if those two loaded meetings weren't enough, on Wednesday night the Parks and Rec Committee will meet to discuss one of the more controversial topics we're likely to handle all year: Dogs in parks.

The city's current park ordinances prohibit bringing animals into parks, including sidewalks around the perimeter of park grounds. This ordinance has proven to be very difficult to enforce, and on Wednesday I plan to advocate for changing it.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources allows pets into most state parks, and I think they have a logical set of rules covering what is and isn't allowed. If you're not interested in following that link, here's the short version:
  • Pets must be on a leash (no longer than eight feet) and under control at all times. Pet owners who fail to control a pet or whose pet is creating a public nuisance may be asked to leave the park or issued citations.
  • Loose pets may be seized and treated as stray animals.
  • Pet owners are responsible for removal and disposal of waste products (just like they are on any other property).
  • Pets are not allowed inside buildings, in playgrounds, or places where food is being prepared.
I understand that we'll hear arguments on Wednesday regarding irresponsible pet owners and the issues they cause. I won't deny that allowing dogs in parks will create some challenges. But I think the majority of pet owners are responsible (and some others can be encouraged to be more responsible), and we owe it to our constituents to give those responsible owners the benefit of the doubt. 

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.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

What you may not know: Week of November 24 - Regional Transit Authorities and You

The Appleton Common Council has an abbreviated committee meeting schedule this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday and Tuesday's Christmas Parade. You can see agendas for the four committees that are meeting here, if you're interested.

If you've read Sunday's edition of the Post Crescent, though, you know that I've been busy with another issue. Last week Alderman Jeff Jirschele and I co-sponsored a resolution calling for the city to support state legislation allowing a referendum to determine if a new sales tax could be used to fund a regional transit authority (RTA).

This new source of funding could go a long way to stabilize the long term future of Valley Transit, which provides safe and reliable transportation to passengers and businesses across the Fox Valley. Before that can happen, though, we need the state to give us permission to ask.

Any proposed new sales tax (the law calls for up to .5%, but Valley Transit is only likely to ask for .1 or .2) would have to pass a referendum before being enacted. And the referendum can't happen without the state legislature passing a bill that would allow us to do so. This legislation has been proposed multiple times but has never passed in both houses. This year it's Senate Bill 259 and Assembly Bill 349, but neither body has held a hearing on it.

I think it's important when discussing this legislation to remember what it is and what it isn't. The proposed bill won't create a new sales tax, or any tax at all. What it will do is allow a referendum that will allow the voters to decide if a supplemental sales tax is needed. All we're asking for here is permission to let democracy run its course.

The unfortunate reality of the moment is that future planning for Valley Transit has been impacted by uncertainty in long term funding. I'm a strong believer that creating a Regional Transit Authority to stabilize the organization would be a good thing for this community going forward, at a very minimal cost (a .1% increase in sales tax would be one cent for every $10 spent).

However, if a new sales tax isn't going to happen, knowing that would also help us plan for the future. Eliminating this possibility will likely have a negative impact on the future of public transit in the valley, but at least then we would know that we'll have to make some tough choices going forward and be in a position to brace ourselves for that impact.

Allowing the voters to choose which direction we go here is the epitome of democracy. I hope the state legislature can come together and agree to let residents of the Fox Valley decide how to proceed.

Monday, November 18, 2013

What you may not know: Week of November 18

The Appleton Common Council meets on Wednesday for the first time since adopting the 2014 budget. This should be a relatively quiet week, but we do have some items of interest on the agenda:

Police, Fire Contracts

The top story this week is likely to be the ratification of new collective bargaining agreements with union-represented members of both the Police and Fire Departments. This is the first time the city has negotiated with either group since Act 10 was enacted.

Despite the changes in bargaining laws, however, our current tentative agreement with both unions came together very quickly. The speed at which all of this came together is encouraging to me: It suggests everyone feels like they're getting a good deal here.

Both new contracts are for four years, so assuming they're ratified on Wednesday we won't need to negotiate the next deal until 1/1/2017.

Community Development Block Grants

Many of you may recall that we had extended debate earlier this year about awarding funds from the 2013 Community Development Block Grants, a federal program intended to help meet needs of low-to-moderate income neighborhoods.

While the city's allocation from the federal government isn't finalized yet, we're expecting to have $500,000 in grants for 2014 and staff has started the process of preparing to distribute those funds. Here's what's scheduled to come before council on Wednesday night:

  • $175,000 earmarked for the Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program
  • $60,000 for the Appleton Housing Authority
  • $40,000 for the Neighborhood Program
  • $37,000 for administrative costs for the Community and Economic Development Department.
  • $10,000 for administrative costs for the Finance Department
  • $53,100 for the Parks and Rec Department for a pair of projects at Arbutus Park, to make electrical upgrades and renovate a pedestrian stairway.
Assuming all of those items are approved and the city receives $500k as projected, $124,900 will remain in the pool and be available to non-governmental community partners. 

I was pretty vocal in the debate on how to allocate CDBG money earlier this year, because I think these funds represent a remarkable opportunity to make a major difference in our community and it's important we do everything we can to maximize their impact. 

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, November 5, 2013

What you may not know: Budget Update

The Appleton Common Council meets on Wednesday night, and we'll be getting started a little early because our plans for the evening include a public hearing on the proposed 2014 city budget. Plan on joining us at 6 pm (or a little earlier if you'd like to sign up to speak) if you'd like to learn more about our plans for the year ahead.

Last week I asked you to weigh in on several budget topics that were discussed at the Finance Committee's all-day meeting on Saturday. Here's an update on where those issues stand:

Regional Partnership

The budget calls for $72,000 ($1 per capita) to be contributed to the Fox Cities Regional Partnership, an organization committed to helping businesses locate and expand in the region. At Budget Saturday an amendment was proposed to strip this money from the budget, but it failed and the item remains in the budget.

I spoke in favor of this item on Saturday for a pair of reasons:

  • First of all, I think the work the Partnership is doing is important in the effort to attract and retain employers in our community. I recently had an opportunity to attend a debrief with Site Selectors invited to Appleton by the Regional Partnership and learned a lot about the process of determining where to locate a business. I came away from the event increasingly determined that the region needs someone out in the marketplace drawing attention to our community's strengths, or we risk getting lost in the shuffle of communities looking to attract new businesses.
  • Second, an estimated 57% of the Partnership's fundraising has come from private sources. This allows us to partner with other government groups and get a much larger impact than we could by spending this money on our own. 
I'm always reluctant to hand tax dollars over to other entities, but in this case I think the work they're doing is important, and replacing the effort would cost us much more than $1 per capita.

Communications Specialist

The Mayor's proposal to add a Communications Specialist to his office drew a lot of conversation on Saturday as we received a copy of a proposed job description and discussed the possible role of this new hire. No amendments were proposed to remove this position from the budget, but one amendment did pass that removed over $7000 in funding from the position and set the prospective employee's start date back into February.

Longtime readers of this space and followers of my campaign know that I ran for this office with one primary goal: To improve the way city government communicates with all of us. I think this position is a key step in the right direction regarding that issue, so I support it and plan on speaking in favor of it at budget adoption.

Exhibition Center

An amendment was proposed to remove expenditures related to the Fox Cities Exhibition Center from the 2014 budget, but it failed. I expect the issue to come up again at budget adoption next week.

If the Exhibition Center is funded as currently proposed, the city would foot the bill for about $3.5 million to purchase the property from Outagamie County, build a pedestrian bridge to it and reconstruct some of the sewer and water facilities around the new building. The project depends on an agreement between the FCEC Board, the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel and local hoteliers, who would be asked to contribute to the project through an increase in the room tax.

This project is proposed as a potential major boost for our downtown businesses, and I don't doubt that the help would be much appreciated. The timing, however, creates a problem, and getting everyone to the table for a mutually beneficial agreement would be a Herculean task. 

This is a project I'd consider coming back to if more favorable conditions arise, but I just don't think now is the time for it. I'm planning on voting to remove the project from the budget at this point.

Business Park Property Repurchase

The 2014 budget currently calls for $200,000 to be allocated for repurchase of industrial park land in the city's Northeast Business Park. The properties that could be repurchased were purchased over 12 months ago but have not been built upon, and the city has the right to take them back for the original purchase price (plus any special assessments and minus any property taxes owed). 

The city currently owns a fair amount of vacant industrial park land (enough to lease some out for farming), and has sold just 1.44 acres of it in the last three years. As such, I'm reluctant to commit tax dollars to repurchasing more at this time. 

Southeast Regional Park

The 2014 budget currently calls for $400,000 to be spent to purchase approximately 40 acres of potential parkland that would be shared with the Town of Harrison. $200,000 of this project would be funded by the city's Park Open Space Fund, while the remainder could be financed by the Stormwater Utility if plans to purchase Lions Park for stormwater maintenance continue.

A park in this area has been a topic of conversation for years, as residents south of the river simply don't have the same park access that north side residents do. The issue was exacerbated by the possible repurposing of Lions Park, but will remain even if those plans are abandoned. The price tag for full development of this facility is a little troubling at $3.15 million over five years, but the need does exist and I'm hopeful this project will result in a park both Appleton and Harrison can be proud of.

Additional Police Officer

The Finance Committee opted not to make any amendments to the 2014 budget to make way for the addition of an officer to the Police Department, but that's likely to still happen. 

Per capita, Appleton's police force is very small. We've been fortunate over the years that it hasn't become a major issue but we need to find a way to address it before it does. On Saturday Mayor Hanna said the issue is more complicated than a single officer, that adding an officer to the force would be the first step in a multi-year effort to expand the force. 

It's hard to tell what future budgets will bring, but for this year we need to find a way to make that commitment. I'm looking for an opportunity to move some money and make this a priority, and I know I'm not the only alderperson doing so.

Disaster Recovery Plan

The Finance Committee did not make any amendments in an effort to return $65,000 to the budget for the IT department to create a disaster recovery plan. This issue did not draw any conversation on Saturday and it appears it'll have to wait a year.

Thanks, as always, to the dozens of you who took a moment to vote in my poll and share your thoughts on the 2014 budget. I've reviewed your votes and comments and will continue to keep them in mind as we put the finishing touches on our plans for the future.

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, October 29, 2013

WANTED: Your thoughts on the city's 2014 budget

With the exception of a couple of rescheduled meetings, the City of Appleton's Common Council is off this week. This gives us all some time to prepare for our annual review of the city budget, which officially starts with a day-long meeting on Saturday.

I've spent most of the last month working through the 2014 budget, my first as an alderman, asking questions and considering possible changes. I'd be missing an opportunity, though, if I didn't also ask for your opinion.

Below please find a poll containing questions about seven items that are being considered or may be considered as part of the 2014 budget. If the poll isn't working correctly below, you can also follow this link to take it via Google Drive.

Thanks in advance for taking the time to share your opinion.

Monday, October 21, 2013

What you may not know: Week of October 21

The city of Appleton's standing committees will meet this week for the last time before the 2014 budget process begins in November. Here are some highlights from this week's agenda:

Human Resources, Monday, 6 pm

We'll start this week with the latest news on labor negotiations. The contract between the City of Appleton and the union-represented members of the Police Department expires at the end of the year, and last week we heard at council that there's a tentative agreement in place for a new contract.

At this point I haven't heard the details of the new agreement, but it's possible Monday's HR meeting will be my first opportunity to learn about it. At present it's not on the agenda, though, so I'm not sure. If I find out for sure that the contract will not be discussed, I'll update this post.

UPDATE: I've since been informed that this tentative agreement will not come before the council until it's been ratified by the union. As such, the HR committee won't discuss it until November 11 at the earliest.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

Two weeks ago this committee discussed some minor modifications to the city's Snow and Ice Removal policy and recommended the policy for approval from the full council, but at council Alderman Smith referred the issue back to the committee for further consideration.

A question Alderman Smith has asked before and may ask again on Tuesday has to do with the window property owners are given to clear snow following a storm. Currently they get 36 hours from the end of the precipitation to have their sidewalks cleared, but the clock is reset if it snows again during those 36 hours.

I think 36 hours is a fair amount of time to allow people to plan for snow removal, and will not support any effort to reduce it. Sometimes circumstances come up or snow falls at an inconvenient time and our property owners need that window to either find time to clear the snow themselves or make arrangements for someone else to do it. I understand that clear sidewalks increase safety, but I think we also need to be understanding of the fact that sometimes life gets in the way.

Finance, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

One of the items on this week's Finance Committee agenda was also discussed at Parks and Recreation two weeks ago. The city budgeted this year for a project to improve the restroom facilities at Memorial Park, with slightly more than $150,000 set aside to produce a building that is expected to eliminate the need for the city to rent portable toilets at the park.

Unfortunately, bids for the project came in well over our expectations and the lowest estimate was $253,375. The project turned out to be more expensive than expected largely because utility lines will need to be extended nearly 500 feet to reach this facility and a 110 foot asphalt path will have to be added to make it ADA accessible.

Over $250,000 for a bathroom project is, of course, a tough dollar figure to swallow. With that said, doing this project right the first time will reduce maintenance costs, lower the need for additional improvements going forward and allow the city to stop paying to rent portable toilets for events in the park.

Assuming this proposal passes the Finance Committee this week and the full council in November, the restrooms are expected to be constructed by spring of 2014.

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, October 15, 2013

What you may not know: Week of October 14

Before I start, I wanted to take a moment tonight to thank the Appleton Police Department. As I write this they're currently involved in a standoff outside a home on the south side, and have been for several hours. A gunman locked himself inside his home with two children earlier today and while the children have since been released, the situation is ongoing. This comes just days after the PD was also involved in an incident on the north side where they arrested a man who was repeatedly ramming cars.

We shouldn't need it, but this week's events have been a remarkable reminder of the dangers our officers can face while working to keep us safe. I'm monitoring reports from the scene of tonight's events and hoping for the best possible outcome: A quiet, safe resolution.

It feels secondary at this point, but the Appleton Common Council will also meet on Wednesday night, coming together early for a brief organizational meeting at 6 before our usual session at 7. This week's big topics are the same ones I wrote about last week, and all five passed committees by unanimous votes last week so they're likely to pass the full council without major incident.

You can read more about the items in last week's post, but here are the basics:

  • A proposed stormwater project in the West Wisconsin neighborhood passed Utilities by unanimous vote last week. It's a potentially costly project (over $13 million) but would also greatly reduce flooding issues in that section of town.
  • A new design plan for the section of Glendale Avenue between Ballard and Roemer Rd, calling for the addition of bike lanes and sidewalk on the north side of the street, also passed unanimously at Municipal Services. 
  • Finally, a new mutual aid agreement for police departments across the Fox Valley was approved by the Safety & Licensing Committee. The new agreement updates several existing agreements and adds coverage from Neenah and Menasha.
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, October 7, 2013

What you may not know: Week of October 7

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

Utilities, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

I've written on multiple occasions over the last few weeks about a major proposed "dry pond" project to alleviate flooding issues in the West Wisconsin Avenue neighborhood. The proposal was referred back to committee last Wednesday, so on Tuesday the Utilities Committee will discuss it again.

At the heart of this issue we really have two questions:

  • First, how do we estimate flooding risk? This project is designed to greatly reduce flooding in what's commonly referred to as a "100 year event." That implies that there's a roughly 1% chance of flooding like this happening in any given year, but those long odds offer little comfort to residents who saw their streets and properties flood twice in a decade. Our ability to predict weather patterns in the long term is always shaky at best, and it's not safe to assume the next 100 years will be the same as the last 100.
  • Second, if we accept there is a risk (or even a growing risk), how much ratepayer* money are we willing to spend to address it? This project carries an estimated price tag of over $13 million, which is about $1.3 million per foot of flooding reduction in a "100 year event." Obviously we'd like to do everything we can to protect these properties, but how much is too much to spend doing so? 
* - It's worth making the distinction that stormwater projects are paid for using stormwater fees, not tax dollars. At the end of the day it's still your money, but it's not coming out of your property taxes.

I've approved this project as a member of the Utilities Committee in the past, but I'm still looking forward to a spirited conversation this week about why we as a council should or shouldn't continue to do so. The result of this process may go a long way to determine how and how often we pursue additional flood relief in the future.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

Immediately after Tuesday's Utilities meeting we'll have a Municipal Services meeting that may be the start of a final resolution for reconstruction work on Glendale Avenue east of Ballard.

I've also written about this project numerous times, so I'll do my best to recap briefly:
  • Glendale Avenue in this area is in rough shape, and gets pretty frequent heavy truck traffic because of its location in the industrial park and the kind of businesses that operate here. The city is planning to reconstruct the street in 2015.
  • City staff's initial proposal called for the addition of bike lanes on this segment of Glendale, plus sidewalk on both sides of the street.
  • This plan is challenging for several businesses on the street but perhaps none more so than the businesses along the south end, whose buildings are constructed near the street and who would lose much of their parking under the original plan.
We've spent months discussing this and trying to find compromise. Over a month ago at council I proposed and we passed amendments that moved the parking from the north to the south side of the street and removed the sidewalk from the south side, softening some of the impacts of this reconstruction while continuing to provide a safe passage for bikes and pedestrians. 

A month ago, though, the Municipal Services Committee decided further study was needed on this matter and elected to refer the plan to staff for a month. Since then staff has developed a new proposal that I think is the best we've seen to date and reflects a better compromise than anything else we've developed. It's been sent out to neighboring businesses, who will get their first chance to comment publicly on it this week.

So now we're back to action. The original amended proposal comes before the committee Tuesday night and they'll have the option of approving it, amending it to the new proposal or changing it in another way. I hope they'll accept staff's new proposal (which, by the way, came from an idea from Alderman Dannecker) and move forward.

I have to say, the way this whole plan has unfolded has really increased my level of faith in the process. Our final result reflects a true effort to compromise to get what's best for everyone and I think it's something we can all be happy with.

Safety and Licensing, Thursday, 5 pm

Finally, on Thursday night the Safety and Licensing Committee will meet to discuss a proposal that could have a significant impact on law enforcement in the Fox Cities. 

Communities across the area are voting this month to approve a new mutual aid pact that will allow officers to report as needed in neighboring communities from Neenah to Kaukauna. The goals, uses and limitations of the program are clearly stated, but it's a challenge to find a balance between responding to cases where help is clearly needed and potentially weakening the coverage of an already lightly staffed police department by allowing them to be called outside the city.

I anticipate this pact will pass council without much difficulty, but there's a conversation we need to have about the challenges of helping our neighbors without overly taxing our own resources.

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, October 1, 2013

What you may not know: Week of September 30

The first Wednesday in October means the first full meeting of Appleton's Common Council. Here are some items we'll discuss at 7 pm Wednesday night:

Block Grants

The first two items in this week's post are both updates on issues we talked about last week. First, last Monday the Community and Economic Development Committee debated several possibilities for $37,133 in leftover Community Development Block Grant funds. CDBG is a program designed to help low-to-moderate income populations in our community.

After considering five requests for funding, the committee elected to divide the money as follows:

  • $10,000 for Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs
  • $10,000 for the Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley
  • $17,133 for Sustainable Fox Valley for a program to improve the playground at Columbus Elementary School.
The remaining requests came from Compassionate Home Health Care, Inc. and the city's Parks and Rec department. All five of these causes represent great opportunities to help our community, and I'm excited for the opportunity to find great ways to use this money to benefit low-to-moderate income people.

Stormwater projects

The Utilities Committee voted unanimously last week to approve a "dry pond" project in the northwest corner of the city that will greatly reduce flooding during major storm events in the W. Wisconsin Avenue neighborhood on the city's northwest side. 

This proposal is the result of years of study, much of which predates my time on the council. We've considered well more than a dozen options to reduce flooding in this area and arrived at alternative 10C, which would call for a pair of dry ponds to be constructed: One on currently vacant land north of the city limits in Grand Chute and one along Birchwood Avenue on the city's west edge, which would require the purchase and demolition of four homes.

The proposal we're recommending for approval (I'm on the Utilities Committee that recommended it) is expensive, with a total cost expected to exceed $13 million. However, it also represents both the greatest reduction of flooding among the 16 possibilities considered and the most efficient reduction of flooding (dollars per foot of flood reduction).

The decision to spend this money and to demolish homes is never made lightly, but in this case I think it's the right thing to do to reduce the risk of flooding in a neighborhood that has experienced major issues twice in the last decade.

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, September 23, 2013

What you may not know: Week of September 23

If you're planning on attending a meeting during this committee week for the Appleton Common Council, odds are you'll see me there: I'm planning on attending six standing committee gatherings and the Fox Cities Transit Commission. Here are some highlights of interest:

Community and Economic Development, Monday, 5pm

It's been about a month since the last time we discussed Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), but they're back on the agenda this week. Here's a quick recap of how we got to this point:

  • CDBG grants are part of a federal program designed to provide money to projects that benefit low-to-moderate income residents. 
  • The city establishes a committee annually to review applications for these grants and make a recommendation on how they'll be distributed.
  • The city ran into an unexpected issue when they received about $90,000 more than their projected allotment this year. Staff made a recommendation to increase the awards of some existing projects, and proposed a new parking lot project at Einstein Park and Middle School.
  • After a month of debate, I proposed an amendment at the August 21 council meeting removing the Einstein project from the awards list and reopening the application process. It passed by a 7-5 vote.
A month has passed since then, and the city has received five applications for the $37,133 in remaining funds. You can see more details about the proposals in an attachment to the CEDC agenda at this link, but five departments and organizations have applied:
  • Appleton's Parks and Rec Department (for a different project)
  • Compassionate Home Health Care, Inc.
  • Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley
  • Harbor House
  • Sustainable Fox Valley
It's now up to the CEDC committee to make a recommendation on what to do with these funds. There are tough decisions to be made here, but I'm excited for the chance to use this money to help one or more of these great causes.

Utilities, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

For many, many months now the city has been looking into ways to alleviate stormwater issues north of Wisconsin Avenue along the city's western edge. More than a dozen proposals have been considered and we've finally reached a staff recommendation, which includes a stormwater pond along Birchwood Avenue that would require the city to purchase and demolish four residences.

This project will resolve flooding issues in the area, which neighboring residents have experienced as recently as 2001 and 2010. Obviously the decision to purchase and demolish homes is never made lightly, but of the multitude of options considered, this plan represents the highest cost-efficient level of stormwater improvement.

Projects like this are critical to preserve the quality of life for residents in flood-impacted areas, but they also come with a significant cost. This proposal, if approved, will cost an estimated $13.6 million between now and 2016.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

Speaking of longstanding issues, on Tuesday night the Municipal Services committee has an information item dealing with Appleton's new (can we still call them new?) blue recycling bins. Months ago the council passed a resolution asking for a review of options regarding the new bins, which have received mixed reviews.

On Tuesday the committee will, for the first time, discuss staff's findings regarding alternatives. Staff has presented us with two possible amendments to the 2014 budget that would allow us to purchase and distribute alternative-sized recycling containers, but both come with a significant financial impact. Replacing current 96-gallon bins with 35 or 65 gallon alternatives will cost roughly $80/bin.

We've been hearing for months that our constituents would like to see alternatives to the current blue bins, and I've been saying all along that the rubber will hit the road when we find out what a change might cost and see who's willing to pay for it. Certainly, some people want a change enough to justify the cost. How many people, though? That's a tougher question to answer.

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, September 16, 2013

What you may not know: Week of September 16

The City of Appleton's Common Council will meet on Wednesday, September 18, to discuss agenda items including the following:

Tax Increment Financing

The council will discuss resolutions Wednesday night that would create two new Tax Increment Financing districts within the city, an economic development tool designed to spur growth in areas that otherwise would continue to stagnate.

I could probably spend 1000 words attempting to define tax increment financing, but Nick Penzenstadler of the Post Crescent nailed it in a recent edition of City Notes:
When a TIF district is created, the amount of property taxes collected by local schools and governments is frozen at the “base” year's value. Any new tax revenue generated from the rising values — or increment — goes toward paying off the investments — and is diverted from the other taxing entities.
The proposed districts would be the ninth and tenth for the city. #9 covers an area near E. Wisconsin Avenue around Appvion, and #10 includes the vacant CVS Pharmacy and former K-Mart site along W College Avenue.

One of the most challenging decisions to make regarding TIF districts is called the "but-for" clause. TIF districts are only supposed to be created in situations where development would not happen but for this expenditure. It's hard to pull out our crystal balls and figure out what may happen here if we don't step in.

I recognize the challenge of doing economic development well while also being responsible financially. As things stand right now I intend to listen intently to arguments against doing this but I'm leaning towards voting yes for both districts.

Finance

The report from last week's Finance Committee meeting has two items that I think are interesting.

First, we'll need a two-thirds vote from council to make a budget adjustment to allocate $25,000 for a consultant to work on the Fox Cities Exhibition Center project. You may recall that this is the same matter we discussed at Council two weeks ago, when Alderman Jischele's resolution on this matter passed by a 9-6 vote. It had previously been rejected on a 6-6 vote with several alderpersons absent.

In theory this is a paper transaction: The council has made their will known on this matter, and now it's simply a matter of approving the budget adjustment. It's unlikely to be that easy, though, as alderpersons who disagreed with the resolution in the first place get another chance to attempt to prevent it from going through.

Second, it's likely to be less controversial but the council will be asked to approve an agreement for short term cash loans involving the city and the Appleton Area School District to cover potential incidental temporary shortfalls in their budget. This is a pretty good win-win arrangement: The city lends money to the school district as needed, usually for short periods of time, and receives a better rate of return than is usually available to them.

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, September 9, 2013

What you may not know: Week of September 9

It's an abbreviated week for the Appleton Common Council, as several of our standing committees will not meet. There are still some pretty significant items on the calendar, though:

Utilities, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

The Utilities Committee has just one action item on its agenda this week, but it's a big one: A proposal to overhaul the way we charge multi-family properties for stormwater runoff.

The city currently uses a mathematical formula to assess stormwater charges based on ERU (equivalent runoff units). Properties are assessed based on whether they're accessed from the regular street right-of-way or a private road and the number of units in the facility.

Technology has given us a fairer way to determine the amount of impervious space in a facility, though, and this proposal calls for aerial photography to be used to assess properties based on their actual footprint. Being able to better determine a property's stormwater impact and charge accordingly is good news for the ratepayers all around.

However, early numbers suggest this adjustment is going to come with a cost. As part of the explanation of the new plan we've been presented with the previous and new stormwater bills for eight multi-family properties, and their bill went up an average of 35%. In some cases that's as much as $65 per unit per year.

Furthermore, that increase comes at a time when Appleton's stormwater rates are already higher than our neighboring communities. Our rate represents a strong commitment to providing quality stormwater service, but our current price position makes it hard to accept further increases. The city's ERU rate went up from $125 to $155 this summer and is scheduled to make another increase of size to be determined in 2016.

After studying all the materials I'm convinced that moving to the new aerial photography adjustment system is the correct decision, but we need more study to determine its impact. The eight properties we've been given as examples show a cause for concern regarding potential cost increases, so I'd like to see a larger sample to determine if that's an accurate representation of what we're going to see across the board.

Once we've got a better understanding there, then we need to take a look at the impact of a cost increase. Considering that we've already raised the ERU rate in 2013, we're scheduled to do so again in 2016 and we're already higher than our neighbors, we need to be careful to make sure we're not going beyond what's reasonable.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

We'll move straight from that conversation into another big one, as the reconstruction of Glendale Avenue is up for debate Tuesday night at Municipal Services. I wrote about this issue last week, before it came before the full council.

Last Wednesday at council we passed two amendments that I think allow this street to remain a safe passage for pedestrians and bicyclists but also greatly reduce the negative impact on the businesses on the street. First, we changed the plan to move the proposed on-street parking from the north to the south side of the street, so the small businesses on that side of the street can have better access for their customers (Amendment passed 10-5). Second, we voted (8-7) to remove the proposed sidewalk from the south side of the street.

Here's what I wrote about these two amendments a week ago, and I stand by it: I think moving the parking from the north to the south side of the street and installing sidewalk on the north side allows us to maximize bicycle and pedestrian safety on this street while also minimizing the inconvenience to small business owners in this neighborhood. It's not a perfect scenario for anyone, but it's the closest thing to a fair compromise I think we're going to find.

After those two amendments passed (and a third failed), the amended action item was referred back to the Municipal Services Committee for further discussion.

With the exception of a few minutes when things got a bit out of hand, I think we had a great conversation last week about finding a way to construct a safe, usable street while also minimizing negative impact on our small businesses. I hope we'll continue to keep both of those priorities in mind in future conversations.

Finance, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

Last week the full council reconsidered a previous vote and approved a resolution proposed by Alderman Jirschele that calls for the city to retain a consultant to help negotiate terms for the proposed Fox Cities Exhibition Center project. The resolution passed but now faces another hurdle, as a budget adjustment to allocate $25,000 for the hiring of this consultant requires Finance Committee approval and a 2/3 council vote.

The cash on hand here will come from within the Community and Economic Development Department, where enough vacant salary dollars exist to cover the expenditure.

This has been a tough issue for me for weeks, because I'm something of an Exhibition Center skeptic. I'm not sold on the notion that the city's commitment to this project is a good use of tax dollars, and I'm concerned about our ability to find any mutually beneficial middle ground with a very widespread group of stakeholders with varying interests. However, I voted for this resolution both the first time and again under reconsideration because if we intend to pursue this at all, it's my opinion that we need to have someone with experience in this field watching out for our interests.

I hope that Alderman Hill won't mind me quoting him here, but I think he more or less summed up my thinking on this matter at Council last Wednesday when he said the following (starting at 2:18:00 or so in the video):

Engaging in this deal, we're swimming with some pretty big fish. I don't want to call them sharks, but these are businesspeople who are going to take every advantage there is to take. This $25,000 is going to be used to hire our own big fish to see to the interests of Appleton and the taxpayers of Appleton, to protect us. If we're going to go ahead with this, to me this is a small price to pay. We need to protect ourselves.

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, September 3, 2013

What you may not know: Week of September 2

I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend. Mine got off to a late start, but I'm spending a couple of days in Milwaukee early this week enjoying some baseball and some of the last days of summer.

When I get back to work on Wednesday, here's what I'll be watching this week:

Board of Health, Wednesday, 7 am

The city's Board of Health meets bright and early on Wednesday morning and one of their two action items is my first resolution as an alderman, a request for this board to be expanded to include a pharmacist. State statute (251.04) requires that local boards of health shall:

  • Assess public health needs and advocate for the provision of reasonable and necessary public health services.
  • Develop policy and provide leadership that fosters local involvement and commitment, that emphasizes public health needs and that advocates for equitable distribution of public health resources and complementary private activities commensurate with public health needs.
  • Assure that measures are taken to provide an environment in which individuals can be healthy.
  • Coordinate the activities of any sanitarian employed by the governing body of the jurisdiction that the local board of health serves.
Appleton currently has seven members on its Board of Health, and state statute requires that a "good faith effort" be made to have a doctor and a registered nurse among them. In the past the city has also worked to have a dentist and mortician on the board.

As stated in my resolution, pharmacists play a key role in maintaining and improving the health of our citizens, and possess a unique area of expertise in the field of medicine. As such, I think the Board of Health would be improved by adding a practicing pharmacist to their membership and on Wednesday morning I'll pour my first cup of coffee extra early so I can go make the case for it.

The Board's recommendation on this matter will appear before the full council at their regularly scheduled 7 pm meeting on Wednesday night. At that time, the council will also consider these items:

Non-union compensation plan

The Human Resources Committee voted 4-0 on Monday to recommend approval of a new non-union worker compensation plan. This is one of the final steps in a long process to develop and implement a new system in the aftermath of Act 10.

This plan is one of the most challenging things I've had to attempt to wrap my brain around since getting elected, and it's also one of the most important. Establishing a fair and evolving pay structure is a critical step in the effort to attract and retain quality employees to our city while also being as responsible as we can be with tax dollars. 

I've learned a lot about the process and this proposal by watching meeting video over the last few weeks, and I suspect I'll learn even more before casting my vote Wednesday night.

Bike lanes and road reconstruction

Last Tuesday the Municipal Services Committee voted 2-1 to approve a reconstruction plan for Glendale Avenue east of Ballard Road that calls for, among other things, the following changes to that road as it travels through the industrial park:
  • The addition of bike lanes on both sides of the road.
  • The addition of sidewalks on both sides of the road.
  • The elimination of parking on the south side of the road.
At the meeting last week I encouraged members of the committee to consider two potential changes. First, it's my opinion that the on-street parking needs to be moved from the north to the south side of the street. There are several small businesses on the south side of the street that would be better served by having parking on their side of the road, and many of them will lose current parking space if sidewalks are installed.

Second, I think we need to have a real conversation about whether it's necessary to have sidewalks on both sides of this road. I think sidewalk on one side is a critical addition for pedestrian safety, but putting it on both sides will not necessarily make the street safer. Putting sidewalk on the south side will also create a certain level of hardship for the business owners on that side of the street. As you can see below, many of these buildings are very close to the street and a sidewalk would wipe out most of the parking in front of their businesses:
(click the photo to enlarge)

I think moving the parking from the north to the south side of the street and installing sidewalk on the north side allows us to maximize bicycle and pedestrian safety on this street while also minimizing the inconvenience to small business owners in this neighborhood. It's not a perfect scenario for anyone, but it's the closest thing to a fair compromise I think we're going to find.

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, August 26, 2013

What you may not know: Week of August 26

The Appleton Common Council has a full slate of committee meetings planned for this week, with some pretty important items on the agenda.

Human Resources, Monday, 6 pm

Longtime readers of this blog will remember that back in March the full council opted to reject a new non-union compensation plan proposed by Carlson Consulting and go back to the drawing board for an in-house solution. A new proposal will take center stage tonight as the HR Committee is expected to debate the new plan.

This process has been dragged out for months, but I'm ok with it taking as long as it needs to if the result is a fair compensation plan for our employees. I will be unable to attend tonight's meeting, but I've sent in several questions about the proposal and look forward to reviewing the discussion once the video is posted.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

Muni Services has no less than nine action items on their agenda this week, including a proposed street reconstruction plan for Glendale Avenue east of Ballard Road that calls for, among other things, the construction of new sidewalks and bike lanes and the elimination of parking on one side of the street. I've written about this issue previously, including laying out my concerns two weeks ago.

This committee held this action item at my request two weeks ago, giving me time to meet with staff and discuss some of my concerns with the plan. Together we discussed an alternate proposal which will be available for the committee to consider on Tuesday, which would move the on-street parking from the north to the south side of the street to better serve some of the small businesses most impacted by this reconstruction.

We also discussed the concerns I wrote about two weeks ago regarding the relative safety of encouraging bicyclists to travel down a street that's also heavily used by large vehicles. I proposed an alternate plan which would have removed the bike lanes from the street and the sidewalk from one side and replaced it it with a ten foot bike/pedestrian trail on one side of the street, but that idea was met with concern that there might actually be more bicycle accidents this way as vehicles exit driveways across a trail with bikes potentially coming from both directions. Given these assurances, I'm feeling better about the premise of on-street bike lanes in this case.

I'm still hoping to be able to convince the committee to accept a change to move the parking across the street. I'm also personally not sold on the need to further inconvenience businesses by putting sidewalks on both sides of the street when one side may be enough.

Parks and Rec, Wednesday, 6 pm

One of this week's Parks and Rec action items is a resolution proposed by Aldermen Croatt and Oswald calling for the city to install recycling bins in city parks and facilities with public access where trash receptacles are present. If you've ever walked by a trash can in a city park you probably understand the logic behind this movement: Recyclable items are ending up in our landfills because it's more convenient to dump them in our park trash cans than to haul them somewhere else.

The primary argument against installing recycling bins is cost, and on Wednesday we'll likely learn what that dollar figure is going to be. This is something we need to find a way to do, it's just a matter of determining the scope of the budgetary impact and finding a way to make it work.

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.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

What you may not know: Week of August 19

SPECIAL ELECTION REMINDER:

The election to select a new alderperson to represent District 1 is this Tuesday, August 20. If you live in District 1 (here's a map), your polling place is First United Methodist Church on Franklin Street. Take a moment to learn about the candidates (Tim Trauger and Tanya Rabec), then head out and vote.

After that, the Appleton Common Council meets on Wednesday night, and there are three issues on the table that have captured my attention:

Community Development Block Grants

If you read Saturday's Post-Crescent, you know that I received a "thumbs up" for recent work regarding block grants, which are federal dollars given to the city for projects targeted to improve the lives of low- to moderate income persons. Two weeks ago at council I sponsored an amendment that struck a parking lot project at Einstein Park (with a price tag of $37,133) from this year's list of recipients.

Unfortunately, that's not the end of the story. Last Monday the Community and Economic Development Committee voted to put the Einstein project back on the list. On Wednesday the issue will come before the full council again.

I've written about this on multiple occasions now so I won't belabor the point, but I will say this: We need to find a better opportunity to help people with this money. I'm not convinced that parking lot restructuring meets any of the stated goals of CDBG program, so I plan to continue to demand an alternative.

Exhibition Center

The proposed exhibition center downtown will continue to be a top story this week as council debates a proposal to hire a consultant to help manage the city's interests in the project. Alderman Jeff Jirschele's resolution calls for the city to spend around $25,000 to bring in someone with experience in the industry to evaluate the situation and potentially work out a final deal.

The Exhibition Center has been a controversial topic with the council and the city, and for good reason. We need only look at the Performing Arts Center to see how much of an impact a great downtown attraction can have on the surrounding area. However, the city's role in this project is significant and comes with an expense that is more than many people will be comfortable with.

I still need to hear more from both sides on this issue at this point. I'm an Exhibition Center skeptic, but I can see the point in bringing in a consultant to make sure we've got all our bases covered if we're still going to pursue it at all.

Bike Lanes

Last week I wrote about a proposal to install bike lanes on the east end of Glendale Avenue, through the industrial park. By my request, that item was held at the Municipal Services Committee and will come up at their next scheduled meeting on August 27.

That committee did recommend two road reconstruction plans for approval, though, and both will come before the full council on Wednesday. The impacted streets are:

  • Badger Avenue between Wisconsin and Prospect, where the new reconstruction would include 12.5 foot travel lanes, two bike lanes and the removal of parking along the south and west side of the street.
  • Meade Street in the blocks on both sides of Northland Avenue, where a bike lane would also be installed.
Both of these projects make sense but have a notable drawback. On Badger, a fair number of residents will lose parking in front of their homes and one of the areas impacted will be around West High School, where parking can already be an issue at times. On Meade, we're talking about a relatively small stretch of bike lane between two areas that currently don't have one and aren't slated to get one in the short term.

The problem with developing a bike lane network slowly over time is that there are times where lanes are constructed that don't make complete sense by themselves, but will look better in the long run. I think both of these projects fit that criteria.

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, August 12, 2013

What You May Not Know: Week of August 12

The Appleton Common Council has an abbreviated committee schedule this week, with two of my assignments (the Fox Cities Transit Commission and Parks and Rec committee) taking a cycle off. There's still a lot to talk about, though, so let's get right to it:

Community and Economic Development, Monday, 5 pm

It's likely some of this week's biggest news will happen tomorrow, when the CEDC committee meets to discuss four items I think are pretty significant.

First on the agenda is Alderperson Jirschele's resolution calling for the city to hire a consultant to help move along the proposed Exhibition Center project. News broke last week that the project has cleared a key hurdle by reaching an agreement between the initiative's leaders and the Paper Valley Hotel, which led to this resolution being referred back to committee for more discussion about where we stand.

Another important item on the agenda is related to that one: The committee will, at some point, go into closed session to discuss real estate negotiations regarding the project.

Third, the city will take up potential changes to the Fair Housing Ordinance, which I discussed in this space two weeks ago. That issue was held in the interest of time at the last CEDC meeting.

Finally, another conversation about Community Development Block Grants is on tap. Last week I mentioned that I wasn't happy with a proposal to use $37,133 in federal grant money earmarked for low and middle-income persons to pay for parking lot work at Einstein Park/School. Last Wednesday at council I submitted an amendment to strike that project from the grant recipients, and it passed by a 7-6 vote. You may already know that if you've read Sunday's Post Crescent.

Now that council has voted to remove that project, the question of what to do with this money remains. I'm hoping to hear some alternatives at this meeting and I'll be grateful for the opportunity to put this revenue towards a project that better fits the stated goals of the CDBG initiative.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

An issue with a very specific impact on the 13th district will be up for action when the Municipal Services Committee meets on Tuesday night. As part of road work scheduled to be completed in 2015 city staff is proposing installing bike lanes and sidewalks along Glendale Avenue east of Ballard, through the industrial park.

Frequent readers of this site know that I've been a proponent of bike lanes during my tenure on council, but I have some concerns in this case:

  • First and foremost, I'm very worried about he potential safety implications of encouraging more people to bike on a street that's frequently trafficked by semis and other heavy equipment. Even if adding a bike lane back here reduces the risk of bike-on-vehicle accidents, we're going to be encouraging people to bike in an area that's inherently risky.
  • Second, because of the way this industrial park is laid out, installing sidewalks and/or bike lanes on this street is going to have a pretty clear and immediate negative impact on some of the businesses in this space. Losing space in front of their business to road expansion and/or sidewalks and losing parking to bike lanes are very real concerns for some longtime tenants of this space that have already been harmed by construction on Ballard and now will face construction on Glendale.
As I've said before, I'm not against bike lanes. Before I can support any proposal to install them on Glendale, though, I'll need to be convinced that they're actually going to be safe and that they're not creating an undue hardship on our industrial property owners. 

I'm hoping to meet with city staff before Tuesday's meeting to talk about the situation and see if there might be any places where we can compromise. I'm hopeful we can reach an agreement that will be both a safety improvement and can be constructed without damaging existing businesses.

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, August 5, 2013

What you may not know: Week of August 5

The Appleton Common Council is back on its normal schedule for August, so the full council will meet on Wednesday night to discuss issues including the following:

Community and Economic Development

As I mentioned last week, the city is an interesting position with their 2013 Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), as HUD has given us an extra $93,133 to work with. One of the items on this week's agenda is a proposal to divide that money among five recipients: The Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley, Habitat for Humanity, Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities, city administration and the Parks and Rec department.

Last Monday at the CEDC committee meeting we were told the Parks and Recreation portion of this spending ($37,133, to be exact) would go towards a project at Einstein Park to "add ball diamonds and fields." (see 11:25 in the meeting video)  We've since been given more details on the project: It involves tearing up some old tennis courts at the middle school, repaving the former tennis courts into the Einstein parking lot and removing a parking lot that currently straddles the line between city and school property.

I'm sure we'll have plenty of discussion on this, but it's my opinion that what amounts to a parking lot project is not an appropriate use of CDBG money. The HUD CBDG website says the following about limitations on this money (emphasis mine):
"Entitlement communities develop their own programs and funding priorities. However, grantees must give maximum feasible priority to activities which benefit low- and moderate-income persons. A grantee may also carry out activities which aid in the prevention or elimination of slums or blight. Additionally, grantees may fund activities when the grantee certifies that the activities meet other community development needs having a particular urgency because existing conditions pose a serious and immediate threat to the health or welfare of the community where other financial resources are not available to meet such needs. CDBG funds may not be used for activities which do not meet these broad national objectives."
I don't see parking lot restructuring as giving the "maximum feasible priority to activities which benefit low- and moderate-income persons." In fact, I'm not sure how this project will benefit them at all. 

With that in mind, on Wednesday I plan to ask for this proposed allocation of grants to be reconsidered and appropriate priority be given to potential recipients that could have a more direct impact on the life of low and moderate income residents of our city.

Finance

For the third consecutive week the special assessment policy will be a major item of focus for me, as the council once again takes up possible changes to the policy for 2014.

One of the more notable changes to the proposed policy is raising the price for the installation of storm and sanitary sewers by $1/foot. I referred this item back to the Finance Committee two weeks ago because I wasn't comfortable with some unanswered questions regarding why we're considering raising the price. 

Unfortunately, after two weeks to research and a very brief discussion at the Finance Committee meeting last week, I remain uncomfortable with the change. As such, I plan to submit an amendment Wednesday night that would remove the fee increases from the proposal. I think it's important that any cost increase be thoroughly scrutinized before approval, and I'm doing my best to make sure that happens.

You can see all of this week's committee agendas and attachments 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.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

What you may not know: Week of July 29

The Appleton Common Council has a busy slate of committee meetings scheduled for this week. Here are a few of the things that have captured my attention:

Community and Economic Development, Monday, 5 pm

There are three action items on the CEDC agenda this week, and I think all of them are interesting.

First, the committee will discuss plans to handle an extra $93,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds recently received from HUD. Earlier this year the committee made recommendations for an anticipated $430,000 in grants, but they've since received more money than they budgeted for. The current proposal for this overflow money calls for it to be spent in the following way:

  • $37,133 to the Parks and Rec Department for a project at Einstein Park/Middle School.
  • $33,000 for Habitat for Humanity, in addition to $15,000 they've already been approved for. This money is projected to be used to purchase a lot to use for new construction.
  • $13,000 for the Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities (in addition to $13,000 already approved) to maintain eleven affordable housing units.
  • $5000 for Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley (plus $10,000 already approved) to use to renovate restroom facilities and add energy-saving lighting features.
  • $5000 to the city for administrative purposes.
Second, the committee will take up a resolution from Alderman Jirschele dealing with the proposed exhibition center downtown. The project has been under discussion for quite some time now but progress seems to have halted. Jirschele's plan calls for the city to appoint someone to either spur the project forward or end the discussion by January 1.

Finally, the committee will discuss proposed changes to Appleton's Fair Housing Ordinance, which protects residents of the city from being discriminated against in their efforts to find and retain housing. The changes are based on recommendations suggested by Milwaukee Fair Housing, and largely deal with issues surrounding gender identity and expression.

These changes may come with some controversy because they extend beyond the bare minimum requirements set forward by the state, but I think it's important Appleton be a leader on this issue. Allowing law-abiding, rent-paying citizens to be discriminated against for any reason is not something I'm willing to accept.

Finance, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

If you read Sunday's edition of the Post Crescent's "City Notes," then you may already know that on Wednesday I referred the city's proposed 2014 special assessment plan back to the Finance Committee for further discussion. The proposal includes a plan to raise the rate by $1/foot for installation of new storm and sanitary sewers and laterals, which would increase the special assessment charge for a property receiving these repairs by roughly $80-120.

That's not a lot of money in the grand scheme, of course, but I still feel like I need to hear more before I'll feel convinced a rate increase is necessary. I've asked the Department of Public Works and Finance Department to provide more evidence that these increases fill an actual need and are not out of line with the rates neighboring communities are charging.

Parks and Recreation: Wednesday, 6 pm

Following Finance, the Parks and Rec committee will meet to get their first look at a concept plan for a proposed skate park in Telulah Park. This is the latest step in a project that's been developing since 2009, and it's an exciting move forward in a project I know a lot of people are eager to see completed.

You can see all of this week's committee agendas and attachments 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.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

What you may not know: Week of July 22

The City of Appleton's Common Council will meet on Wednesday night, but before we get to that the residents of District 1 have another matter to tend to:

Special Election

The alderman position representing District 1 has been vacant for some time now with the departure of Teege Mettille, but we'll take a key step towards filling that position when three candidates face off in a primary election on Tuesday. Three candidates filed to run for the job, and you can learn a little more about them in this Post Crescent story.

If you live in District 1 (and you can use this map to determine if you do), then do yourself a favor: Take the time to learn a little more about all three candidates and get out and vote. The polls will be open at St. Matthew's church on Mason Street from 7 am to 8 pm.

Finance

Once we get to Wednesday's council meeting, the primary issue catching my attention is the 2014 policy for special assessments. The topic of debate here is likely to be a proposed $1/foot increase for installation of storm and sanitary sewers.

The argument for raising these rates is that the cost of installing sewers has gone up and, as currently planned, overages for construction costs are billed to the storm and wastewater utilities. However, before we can make an informed decision on this I think we need more context, including a possible comparison to rates charged by neighboring communities.

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.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What you may not know: Week of July 15

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

Community and Economic Development, Monday, 5 pm

The CEDC Committee does not have any action items on their agenda this week, but they still have a hot topic to discuss. If you've been reading the Post Crescent you may already know about proposed plans to build an 180-unit apartment complex on the former Foremost Dairy site, which is along the Fox River south and west of the College Avenue Bridge.

A developer's proposal calls for a $15-25 million project that could start work yet this year if approved, but neighbors of the proposed facility are not pleased with the plans. The council recently received a petition signed by nearly all property owners in the surrounding neighborhood calling for this concept to be rejected, citing concerns about traffic and parking. Trying to fit hundreds more people into a relatively quiet pocket of the city would certainly cause some headaches.

While an apartment complex of this magnitude may not be the right fit for this location, the city does need to do something to get this space back on the tax rolls. We've already spent over a million dollars to rehabilitate and remediate the site, so finding a resolution that allows the city to recoup those costs is a top priority. Some of the petition signers and critics of the project want the space preserved as green space, but that's unlikely to be a feasible option.

A traffic impact study and the aforementioned petition are on the CEDC agenda for this week, and are likely to spark a fair amount of discussion.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

An item of interest to residents of District 13 will appear before the Municipal Services Committee on Tuesday night. As part of this summer's reconstruction of Ballard Road, there is a proposal to remove some parking for a short distance on neighboring streets. Assuming the proposal passes, parking will be eliminated:

  • On the south side of Glendale Avenue for the first 390 feet east of Ballard, 
  • On both sides of Glendale for the first 215 feet west of Ballard, and
  • On both sides of Pershing Street for the first 215 feet west of Ballard.
This isn't a major change, but by my count it will eliminate on-street parking in front of roughly five residences on Glendale and an apartment building facing Pershing. I hope we'll have a conversation about why that's necessary before we inconvenience those residents in this way.

Parks and Recreation, Wednesday, 6 pm

The lone action item on the Parks and Rec agenda this week is a resolution proposed by two members of the committee at last week's council meeting. It calls for recycling bins to be installed in all city parks near garbage receptacles, in an effort to encourage more recycling in the space.

This plan will come with some cost and will require plans to be made for recycling pickup, but I think it's a no-brainer. The city has done so much to encourage our residents to recycle and had great success in doing so, but parks are one place where recyclable items are going into the trash because of a lack of alternatives. We have the means to fix that and I hope we'll do so.

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.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What you may not know: Week of July 8

Good afternoon everyone, and I hope you're enjoying this beautiful day. It's a quiet week for Appleton's Common Council. The full council will meet tonight but the agenda is short and the only item of significant interest to District 13 is approval of a consolidated action item to add concrete, curb and gutter to the previously unfinished portions of Ashbury Dr, Glory Lane and Intertech Drive. I discussed that work in this space three weeks ago.

Road Construction update

While it should be a relatively quiet week in the council chambers, it won't be quite as quiet on several neighborhoods in District 13. Road construction projects have recently wrapped up on Benvalley, Applecart and Sourapple Drives and are getting ready to ramp up on Ashbury and Appleview. Work on the latter streets was actually scheduled to begin on Monday but was pushed back a couple of days due to rainy conditions.

Here are three things I've recently learned about the construction projects that you may not have heard:

  • The crew working on Ashbury is expected to start with the NORTH side of the road. The south side will remain open to one-way traffic until the north side is completed.
  • Both Ashbury and Appleview Drive are still on scheduled to be completed by the end of August.
  • Assuming the council approves the other work to be done on Ashbury, Glory and Intertech tonight, those projects will start on Monday, July 15.

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.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

What you may not know: Week of July 1

The Appleton Common Council is off for the holiday this week. July is a five-Wednesday month, so we've pushed our schedule back a week to allow everyone to spend some time with their families and friends without missing any work. Here's our new July schedule:

Wednesday, July 10: Common Council meets
July 15-18: Committee meetings
Wednesday, July 24: Common Council meets
July 29-August 1: Committee meetings

On behalf of all of us with the city, I'd like to wish you a safe and happy Independence Day. Before I leave for my vacation, though, I do have a few quick things to tell you about.

Fireworks

The Appleton Jaycees will hold their annual fireworks display at Memorial Park on Wednesday, July 3. You can see much more about the event at their webpage, but here's the quick version:

  • Bands Overdrive (5-6:30) and Boogie and the Yo-yos (6:30-9) will be playing in the park before the fireworks.
  • Fireworks will begin at dusk, which is roughly 9 pm.
  • The Jaycees will have food and drink stands at the park, and proceeds support the fireworks display.
Garbage/recycling collection

This week's holiday has shifted the refuse collection schedule a bit. Here's what you need to know:
  • If your garbage day is normally Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, your schedule will not change.
  • If your garbage day is normally Thursday, your garbage and recycling will be collected on Friday.
  • If your garbage day is normally Friday, your garbage will still be collected on Friday but your recycling will be picked up on Saturday.
Downtown trolley

Appleton's downtown trolley will take its maiden voyage for the 2013 season on Friday, July 5, and with the Olde Oneida Street bridge reopened it will be back to its normal route. The trolley is free, operates from 5-11 pm on Thursdays and Fridays and 8 am-11 pm on Saturday, and serves the following locations:
  • The Appleton City Center and Library
  • The downtown YMCA
  • The History Museum at the Castle
  • Pullman's
  • Eagle Flats
  • Between the Locks
  • Fratello's and Atlas Mill
  • The courthouse and police department
  • The Performing Arts Center
Whether you're heading to a specific location or just looking for a tour of Appleton's downtown and riverfront, hop on the Trolley sometime and check it out. 

And, if you're heading to one of those locations but it's not during trolley hours, the same locations are served every 30 minutes for the rest of the week by Valley Transit's Route 9, otherwise known as "The Link." 

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 24, 2013

What you may not know: Week of June 24

It's a committee week for the Appleton Common Council, but it's a relatively quiet one: three of our standing committees (Community and Economic Development, Human Resources and Parks and Recreation) have cancelled their scheduled gatherings. Here are some highlights from what's left:

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

The challenges sometimes caused by parking downtown are an issue I hear about frequently. The city faces a difficult balance in trying to avoid inconveniencing users of downtown facilities any more than necessary while also maximizing the usefulness of limited space to park in the area.

At this week's meeting the committee will discuss a request from Appleton Downtown, Inc. to slightly loosen downtown parking restrictions. Their proposals call for meters downtown which are normally set for two-hour parking to be changed to three-hour parking between 6-9 pm. If approved, this rule would change on January 1, 2014.

As I mentioned above, the challenge of parking downtown is something I hear about a lot. I frequently hear it discussed as a reason people avoid going downtown, both to shop and to use facilities like the library. I know that an adjustment to meter hours isn't going to resolve all of those issues, but I do think it's a potential step in the right direction.

Finance, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

The Finance Committee has a couple of interesting items on their agenda, including a request to approve over $18 million in bond sales. It's my understanding that the bonds allow the city utilities to continue to operate while waiting for revenue to come in. I may be wrong on that, though, and I'm looking forward to learning more about it at the meeting.

Special session, Wednesday, 7 pm

Last week I mentioned  that the council needed to make a decision on what to do with the District 1 seat being vacated by Alderman Teege Mettille. After much debate Wednesday night the council approved a plan to hold a special election on August 20 to select a successor. This comes with a cost of about $6000 (plus another potential $6000 if a primary is needed), but I feel like letting the voters select their own representative is well worth the cost.

Preparations have begun for an August election, though, and we've found that District 1's normal polling location will not be available to host a primary if needed. So the full council will meet in special session Wednesday night to consider alternative locations and presumably be updated on the preparation process for the election.

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.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

What you may not know: Week of June 17

The Appleton Common Council will meet as scheduled on Wednesday at 7 pm, and our most notable discussions this week will likely involve the following:

Other business

The council has a somewhat unusual item to discuss this week, as one of our own is leaving and we need to figure out a plan to fill the resulting vacancy. Alderman Teege Mettille, who was recently re-elected to serve District 1, is leaving the city to take a new job in Ashland and will resign from the council following Wednesday's meeting.

While we all wish Teege the best of luck in his new endeavor, the fact that he was recently re-elected leaves a pretty significant share (22 months) of his term uncovered. The council has three options to replace him:

First, we have the power to simply appoint a replacement. We could announce a plan to appoint Teege's successor at our next meeting, allow all interested parties to speak and pick an interim alderman via secret ballot. This has been done before: Both Alderman Stueck and Alderperson Coenen got their seats this way. An appointed alderperson would hold their seat until the city elections in April, when the public would get to choose a permanent replacement.

This is a relatively quick and easy way to fill the seat, but it comes with three pitfalls:

  • The seat would be filled by a secret ballot from 14 alderpersons, none of whom represent or were elected to serve District 1. Selecting an alderperson this way effectively ensures that we'll get the candidate we want, but that may not be the candidate the voters would choose.
  • Coming and speaking to a group of alderpersons in an effort to win the seat is much, much easier than actually having to go out and campaign. It's possible this process would get us an alderperson who would not actually have been willing to put in the time it would take to win an election. 
  • Finally, even though we're only appointing an alderperson to fill 10 or so months, we're also likely choosing a favorite to win re-election next spring. The benefit of being an incumbent in low turnout elections is remarkably strong, so odds are an appointed alderman would remain in the seat for the long term.
If you don't like the option of appointing a replacement, the second option is to leave the seat vacant until April. This removes the burden of having to appoint someone from the council, but it also leaves the district unrepresented on the council for most of the year.

The third option, and the one I'm planning on supporting, is to hold a special election. This would carry a cost (around $6000) and turnout is likely to be low, but this is the best way to ensure the citizens of District 1 get an alderman that's willing to work to represent them and supports their interests. 

State law requires we wait at least 62 but not more than 77 days to hold a special election. That means the earliest a decision could be made is Tuesday, August 20. However, an alderperson selected this way could fill the remainder of Alderman Mettille's term, which would still be 17 months.

Board of Public Works

The Board of Public Works will meet for the final time before Council on Wednesday and one of their action items is relevant to District 13: There's a plan in place to add to this summer's street paving projects, pouring concrete and adding curb and gutter to the following roads:
  • Ashbury Drive between French Road and Providence Avenue
  • Glory Lane between French Road and Providence Avenue
  • Intertech Drive from Enterprise Avenue to its conclusion
The city estimates that these three projects will cost a combined $490,000, with $344,116.59 expected to be collected in special assessments. If these projects are approved, virtually all of the streets in the neighborhood (the only exception I can think of is Canvasback Circle) will have their improvements completed.

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.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

What you may not know: Week of June 10

It's a committee week for the Appleton Common Council, so let's get right to the highlights:

City Plan Commission

The City Plan Commission will meet on Monday at 4 pm and their lone action item pertains to District 13: a request for the city to annex a roughly 9.5 acre parcel of land along Evergreen Drive. With apologies for my lack of artistic ability, the chunk of land we're talking about is circled in red here:
The proposed annexation says there is no current plan to develop the land being annexed, and as such the property is likely to be zoned "temporary agricultural," with the exception of a small portion in the area of Apple Creek that will be zoned as a Nature Conservatory District, consistent with other areas near the Apple Creek Trail.

Assuming all goes as planned here, this will appear before the Common Council on June 19, July 24 and finally on August 7 before final approval.

Utilities

The Utilities Committee will meet Tuesday at 4:30 to start a process that may not draw a lot of attention in the short term, but could have a significant impact on the future of the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Recent regulation changes for outputs into the Fox River have created a situation where the city needs to consider options to significantly lower the volume of phosphorus in water leaving the treatment facility. The plant is normally allowed to discharge one milligram of phosphorus for every liter of output, but by fall of 2015 they'll need to reduce that to .2 milligrams. That's not something the plant, as currently constructed, is equipped to handle. Fortunately, there are several options available for handling the change.

On Tuesday staff will ask the Utilities Committee to accept a bid over $200,000 for an evaluation of the situation and a recommendation regarding how to proceed. The fact that we're approving spending that much money simply to study the problem really shows the magnitude of the situation. 

Finance

The Finance Committee will meet Wednesday at 4:30 and a public hearing is scheduled for that time to allow a pair of CPAs from Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP to present the city's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2012. 

Budgeting isn't always the most fun part of an alderperson's job, but it may be the single most important thing we do and looking at how previous budgets have turned out is a key preliminary step in the effort to prepare for 2014.

You can see all of this week's agendas on the city's new Legistar page. This will be our first time using the new system for committee meetings, so bear with us if things don't go exactly as planned.

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.