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.

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