Sunday, March 30, 2014

What you may not know: Week of March 31

Before I get started with this week's council update, I wanted to take a moment to remind everyone that our 2014 city and school elections will be held on Tuesday, April 1. Here in Appleton we have four candidates vying for three spots on the school board and three contested races for spots on the Common Council. Polls will be open from 7 am-8 pm on Tuesday, and you can find your voting location by typing in your address at and clicking on the "voting" tab.

After that, the Appleton Common Council will meet on Wednesday and the three items on my radar are things I also discussed last week. Here are the updates on them:

Bike lanes on Fremont Street

After nearly an hour of debate last Tuesday (the third time they've debated this issue) the Municipal Services Committee voted 4-1 to reaffirm their decision to install bike lanes on Fremont Street this summer, which will require the removal of some on-street parking. The issue will come before the council again this week, and will likely receive a final vote.

The real challenge of the bike lane debate is that we're frequently pushed to seek "compromise" when the only available alternatives are really not all that viable. In this case, we've heard arguments in favor of creating a "sharo" on the street, a shared lane for bike and vehicle traffic. I'm not sure how that's significantly safer than doing nothing at all. We've also heard arguments for closing a lane of traffic on each side of Calumet Street to make room for bike lanes there. Calumet Street is one of the city's busiest arterial streets, so removing traffic lanes could create major backup issues.

I anticipate that on Wednesday we as a council will again be accused of "not listening" to concerns of neighbors and others that do not want to see bike lanes on Fremont Street or other parts of the city. That couldn't be further from the truth. By the time this issue is taken up on Wednesday we'll have heard debate on this issue on five separate occasions. Public comment has been taken into account in each and every one of those meetings, concerns have been addressed where possible and further steps have been considered.

At the end of the day, we as a council need to make a decision. No matter what we do hear, not everyone will be happy with it. But please allow me to assure you that the concerns addressed by both sides were not ignored.

Carryover budgets

Last week the Finance Committee voted unanimously to approve dozens of requests to carry unspent dollars from the 2013 budget over to 2014. A significant share of these dollars will be used to complete projects that were budgeted for last year but could not be completed before the end of the year for various reasons. However, 22 of these items are "special considerations," additions to the budget using leftover unspent funds.

A large number of those 22 items are requests for "pay for performance" salary adjustments. These are pay raises specifically granted to employees who received exceptionally high scores in their evaluations for 2013. There are also projects in here like $150,000 for storm sewer relocation and reconstruction under the Banta Bowl, $99,000 for replacement of computers, hardware, software and phones and $36,500 for the installation of indented parking on a couple of blocks of Mason Street.  All told, the "special consideration" portion of the carryover requests is $672,548.

As I mentioned above, this passed Finance unanimously last Wednesday. It's probably unlikely to be dramatically altered on the floor at council.

Farm Markets

Two weeks ago the council referred a request to hold a Wednesday Farm Market in the grassy area behind the City Center back to the Safety and Licensing Committee, where it was scheduled to be heard again last Thursday. Unfortunately, that meeting had to be cancelled, so Safety and Licensing will hold a special meeting before council at 6 pm on Wednesday to take up this item and the others on their agenda.

The conversation, best as I can tell, is still about finding the best place to hold this market. Once we settle on that I think the large majority of us will all be happy to have another event to help make local food more available and draw more people downtown in the process.

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.

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