Sunday, April 6, 2014

What you may not know: Week of April 6

This is kind of an unusual week for the Appleton Common Council. As you likely know, we had elections last week and two new members were elected to the council (not counting Polly Dalton, who we appointed a few weeks earlier). Those new members won't be sworn in until Tuesday, April 15, though.

In the meantime, though, we still have committee meetings scheduled for this week with our old committee alignment, and we have some remarkably significant items on the agendas. Here are some of the things I'm watching:

Community and Economic Development, Monday, 5 pm

Frequent readers of this space will certainly be aware of Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), a federally-funded program to help enhance the quality of life of low-to-moderate income residents. Back in February I wrote about nearly $125,000 in grant awards proposed for this year. That was based on an estimate that the city would receive $500,000 in grants overall.

Back in March the city received notice that our grant award is actually slightly higher, at $525,200. That leaves us an extra $25,200 to allocate, and that's the task that will be given to the Community and Economic Development Committee on Monday.

The committee has the authority to distribute this money to any approved project they wish, but I suspect they'll focus on five organizations who received less than their full funding request in the original allocations: Harbor House, NAMI, Step Industries, Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities and Greater Fox Cities Habitat for Humanity.

Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

Parking meters downtown are one of the longstanding issues facing the city, as council members frequently hear from residents who do not approve of having to pay to park near city buildings and other amenities. We might take the first step towards eliminating those meters on Tuesday.

Last week at council Alderperson Kathy Plank proposed a resolution that calls for the city to analyze removing meters downtown and replacing them with license plate reader technology. My understanding is that the technology exists to purchase a vehicle that would scan license plates downtown all day and enforce two hour maximums on downtown spots.

There are a ton of questions to be answered here, including the following:

  • Removing the meters will cause a loss of revenue for the city's parking utility. Are we willing to lose that money, and if not, how can we replace it?
  • Does having a vehicle that drives around scanning license plates all day create a surveillance issue? How will the data on which vehicles are parked downtown be maintained, and who will have access to it?
In the meantime, though, before that conversation can fully happen council needs to approve this resolution asking staff to analyze the alternatives. I hope we'll do so, because only good things can come from that conversation.

Finance, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

Along with downtown parking, special assessments for road and sewer construction projects are also one of the most controversial issues the council faces. Last week Alderperson Plank also proposed a resolution calling for a review of that practice and a look into the possibility that special assessments could be replaced with money from the city's general fund.

I'm strongly in favor of a full review of the special assessment policy, because a lot of expensive work is done this way and I'd like to know if there are viable alternatives to the current system, where property owners pay large one-time charges for work done on or near their property. I anticipate that one of the arguments against a change, though, will be that using special assessments allows us to complete more projects. Because of levy limits, we don't have the option of raising property taxes to offset the loss of special assessment dollars. 

Again, this resolution isn't a change to the policy, just a request for city staff to analyze it. I'm hopeful we'll pass this resolution and give this practice thorough scrutiny later this year.

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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