Monday, January 20, 2014

What you may not know: Week of January 20

The Appleton Common Council has a busy committee week ahead, with some new issues and some longstanding debates on the agenda. Here are the highlights:

Community and Economic Development, Monday, 5 pm

I've written extensively about Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) in the past, as the city accepts applications annually for shares of money from a federal program designed to provide funds to projects that benefit low-to-moderate income residents. On Monday night the Community and Economic Development Committee will meet to make a recommendation for $124,900 in grant money available to non-government organizations in 2014.

A six-member advisory board has already met to make a preliminary recommendation for these funds, and here's their proposal:

  • Greater Fox Cities Area Habitat for Humanity will receive $33,600 (requested $60,000).
  • Harbor House will receive $19,800 (requested $25,000).
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) will receive $16,600 (requested $28,000).
  • Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities will receive $16,300 (requested $45,800).
  • Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley will receive $15,000 (requested $15,000).
  • STEP Industries will receive $13,600 (requested $37,000).
  • Fox Valley Warming Shelter will receive $10,000 (requested $10,000).
  • Compassionate Home Health Care will receive no money (requested $50,000).

Determining how this money is distributed is an enormous task, of course, and I'm eager to hear how we arrived at this result.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

The Municipal Services Committee will be busy on Tuesday night, as they have three interesting items on their agenda.

First, they'll discuss Alderman Joe Martin's proposal to add decorative street lighting to the Skyline (Oneida Street) bridge when the street is reconstructed in 2015. The lights would look similar to those installed on the College Avenue bridge and throughout downtown. The estimated cost to replace the current lights with decorative fixtures is around $160,000, raising a debate on whether beautifying one of the entrances to our downtown area is worth a pretty significant expenditure in tax dollars.

Second, the effort to procure a second option for the city's recycling bins will take another step forward as the committee is expected to select some possible vendors and sizes to request quotes. Two weeks ago the committee was split on the appropriate size for a smaller alternative bin. Most local communities that offer an alternative use something between 60-65 gallons, but a smaller size (48, 35 or 32 gallons) is available for purchase.

Finally, two weeks ago the committee approved a proposed pilot project to install a "bike corral" in a parking space on College Avenue in front of Harmony Cafe, but the issue was referred back at council and will be discussed again. At the last Municipal Services meeting some concerns were raised about potential safety issues caused by bicyclists needing to ride down College Avenue to reach the corral.

Parks and Recreation, Wednesday, 6 pm

Finally, we'll have yet another discussion in our long series on dogs in parks at Wednesday night's Parks and Rec meeting. A series of amendments regarding park ordinances was approved by a 3-2 vote two weeks ago, but last week at council I referred the issue back to committee.

I've been supportive all along of efforts to allow dogs into the parks with certain restrictions, but as I've discussed it with constituents and others over the last couple of weeks it's become apparent that we'll need some time to make some infrastructure adjustments to the parks if we're going to allow dogs. I'm most concerned about our park rules signs (which currently all say "no pets"), potential bag dispensers to encourage people to pick up after their dogs and our park garbage cans, which may need to be emptied more frequently.

This week I'm hopeful we'll discuss potential adjustments that may need to be made and the possibility that we could allow dogs at a date in the future, giving us some time to make the changes needed to do this correctly.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Making the council's activity as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested is part of my goal to make it easier for more people to get involved with issues that matter to them.

Monday, January 13, 2014

What you may not know: Week of January 13

As promised earlier, here is this week's update on city council activity. The biggest issues coming before the council this week are the same ones I discussed in last week's post, but here's an update on where they stand:

Recycling bins:

As expected, the Municipal Services committee made some modifications to a proposed exchange plans for new, smaller recycling bins.

The initial draft of the exchange policy called for a $100 exchange fee, but that fee will now be waived for anyone that hasn't already exchanged recycling bins once in the last 24 months. As such, anyone who wants to move to a smaller bin and qualifies will be able to do so for free once.

The phrase "and qualifies" is important because of the committee's second amendment: An addition to the policy stating residents can only move to a smaller recycling bin if they also have one of the city's small (roughly 35 gallon) or medium (60-65 gallon) sized garbage bins. This was designed to hopefully prevent residents from downsizing their recycling bin and throwing their overflow recycling into their oversized garbage.

Water Plant

After some discussion, the Finance Committee voted unanimously last week to approve the contract for the Regulatory Upgrades and Process Improvement Project at the Water Treatment Facility, and to make a budget adjustment to prepare for the possibility that the project could exceed its original budgeted figure.

Wednesday's vote will, if nothing else, be notable as a milestone in this project. After years of pre-design and design work and more, a two-thirds vote of council will give Staab Construction authorization to officially begin work on replacing microfiltration modules at the facility with ultraviolet light and making many other process improvements to help the facility remain compliant with DNR regulations.

Dogs in Parks

The Parks and Recreation Committee voted 3-2 last Wednesday to recommend approval of an amended set of park ordinances that include, among other things, the ability to bring dogs into city parks. I proposed the original amendment to allow dogs, and on Wednesday we amended that amendment to language the legal department was more comfortable with. Now, after months of debate, this issue is ready to come before the council for the first time.

I remain dedicated to opening up our parks for responsible pet owners, but it appears likely this is going to be a close vote. If you feel strongly about this issue I'd urge you to contact your alderman and let them know what you're thinking.

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.

Hear me today on The Philcast on WHBY

I'll be back later this evening with this week's council roundup, but I wanted to take a moment while I have the chance today to invite you to listen to the Philcast on WHBY, where I'll be stopping by around 4:30 today for what's certain to be a lively conversation about allowing dogs in Appleton's city parks.

You can hear WHBY over the air at 1150 AM, or you can listen in online. Take a moment today to join the conversation!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What you may not know: Week of January 6

After a several-week hiatus for the holidays and the coldest Monday in recent memory, the Appleton Common Council will thaw out and return to action this week with an abbreviated committee schedule. Here are some of the highlights:

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

Since I've joined the council one of the most oft-discussed topics has been the city's new blue recycling bins, and the Municipal Services committee is likely to take a step towards giving residents more alternatives on Tuesday night.

At the meeting I anticipate the committee will approve a proposed new recycling cart exchange policy that will allow recycling users to swap out their bin for a smaller version at no cost provided they make the request before December 31, 2014. After that time moving down to a smaller bin will carry a $100 fee, but the city will continue to maintain bins, replace broken bins and allow users to move back up to the larger bin for free.

On December 28 the Post Crescent ran a story about an earlier draft of this proposal, which called for the $100 change fee to begin immediately. At the last Muni meeting in December the committee made it clear that they wanted to give constituents time to make a choice before instituting the fee, then held the issue to give staff time to prepare this second draft.

Finance, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

The Finance Committee has a big ticket item on their agenda on Wednesday, as they're expected to vote to award a contract worth nearly $5 million for construction on a major project at the Water Treatment Plant.

This project has been a long time coming, as it's at least partially in reaction to new state and federal water regulations handed down in early 2012. The construction summary includes seven elements, but the primary task involved is installing and implementing an ultraviolet light disinfection process to inactivate Cryptosporidium and Giardia, two parasites that can cause very significant illness.

Of course, any time we're talking about a multimillion dollar project every possible step is taken to ensure we're doing the right thing, finding all possible efficiencies and adding something that will last. This project will have to clear an additional hurdle, as approving the project will require a $361,000 budget adjustment to cover some additions that have had to be made since the original project budget.

With that said, I think this improvement is going to be a great thing for our community and everyone that uses our water.

Parks and Recreation, Wednesday, 6 pm

We've been debating the possibility of allowing dogs in Appleton City Parks since August, but this may finally be the week where the Parks and Rec Committee makes a recommendation to the full council.

I wrote about this issue in my last post a month ago, where I outlined a possible rule change and set of criteria for allowing pets into city parks. The committee approved my amendment by a 3-1 vote at our last meeting in December, but then elected to hold the action item so the Legal Department could have an opportunity to re-craft the language.

With their suggestion in hand, I think we're finally ready to proceed here. I expect this amendment to pass Wednesday night, and it should make for interesting debate at council the following week.

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.