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.