Monday, July 21, 2014

What you may not know: Week of July 21

It's a committee week for the Appleton Common Council, and it might be the busiest one in my year and a half as a member of this body. Normally I try to write about two or three topics here, but this week I can't narrow it down to less than five.

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

As you might have seen in the Post Crescent, the city's policy for painted signs and/or murals on the side of buildings has come under fire recently. The issue came to light when a mural at Wilmar Chocolates was found to be in violation.

In response, at our council meeting three weeks ago five alderpersons co-sponsored a resolution calling for immediate suspension of enforcement of the ordinance and a review of the policy. That resolution comes before the City Plan Commission on Monday.

I suspect the resolution will pass at committee, as it only calls for a temporary halt to enforcement to give us time to review the policy. The next step, the actual policy review, is likely to present a more interesting challenge. Allowing murals like the one at Wilmar is a no-brainer, but if we allow painted signs in this instance because they're art, then we put ourselves in the position of having to determine what is or is not art.

This is likely only the first step in a long conversation on this issue.

Central Equipment Agency Review Committee, Tuesday, 4 pm

Two weeks ago at the Safety & Licensing Committee we learned for the first time about an issue with one of Appleton's largest and most expensive fire trucks, our 100-foot aerial platform truck. The torque box which holds up the platform had cracked, and could take several months to repair. This is the only truck of its kind in the city, although a couple of our neighboring communities also have one.

The discovery of this issue has led to a re-evaluation of our options with this truck. The truck is 14 years old and was scheduled to be replaced in 2020. It's become increasingly expensive to repair, and the need for frequent maintenance will take it out of commission more and more often as it continues to age.

As such, it's time to start looking at the possibility of replacing this truck early instead of continuing to pour money into an asset that's near the end of its life cycle. There is the possibility in place to buy a stock unit from Pierce Manufacturing for $920,000, which is about $300-$500,000 less than it would cost to buy a custom unit but about $200,000 more than the combined balance of the money saved for the purchase of a new truck and the trade-in value of the existing truck. That overrun would have to be borrowed or come out of the city's fund balances for us to be able to make this move.

Borrowing and/or digging into fund balances to replace a piece of equipment early isn't something we want to do if we can avoid it, but in this case it appears to be a fiscally prudent move. Furthermore, there is a safety factor to consider: Buying the stock unit from Pierce, as recommended by staff, is the quickest way to have an operational truck in place and helping protect our community.

Assuming this item passes the CEA Review Committee, it will also appear as an action item before the Finance and Safety & Licensing Committees on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.

Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

I've written previously about the five latest streets being discussed as part of Appleton's on-street bike plan. A month ago three alderpersons called for portions of Capitol Drive, Prospect Avenue, Roemer Road, N. Oneida Street and Telulah Avenue to have bike lanes installed in the coming years to help add connectivity of lanes when other portions of those streets or nearby streets are reconstructed. That resolution was held at the June 24 meeting and will be heard again on Tuesday night.

Bike lanes have been one of the more challenging topics we've heard during my time on the council, as we've frequently heard from people who have a wide variety of opinions on the city's responsibility to create bicycle-friendly infrastructure and what it means to do so.

Four months ago I made a list of frequently-asked questions regarding bike lanes, and odds are we'll answer many of those questions again on Tuesday.

Finance Committee, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

A pair of longstanding council topics will take center stage at this meeting. First, we have a request to approve what's called a "Resolution of Necessity" for the city to purchase two properties that could combine to become the future home of the Appleton Public Library.

There has been a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding making the rounds on this topic, and this Post Crescent Community Column clears up a fair amount of it. The city is not planning on and has no interest in "forcing out" either Michiels or Trinity. The eminent domain process being used is a legal necessity to help those two properties determine the value of their space and make an informed decision about how to proceed. If they turn out to be unwilling to sell, the city will likely proceed with other options.

At any rate, the next step in that process is for the Finance Committee and council to approve the "necessity" of purchasing the sites, allowing the city and the library to continue efforts to acquire them. I expect the committee to approve on Wednesday, and the council will take the matter up next week.

Second, we have the next portion of our long-standing review of Appleton's policies regarding special assessments. Last week council wrapped up the new subdivision portion of the policy, and this week we'll start our review of the utilities.

The utilities portion of special assessments don't draw as much attention as the street reconstruction section, but repairs and related work can still be pretty expensive. I'm eager to see what possibilities we may discuss to make adjustments here.

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, July 14, 2014

What you may not know: Week of July 14

The Appleton Common Council will meet on Wednesday at 7 pm to take up items that mostly appeared before committees last week, so it's time for updates on items I've covered recently:

Parking for Mile of Music 2:

Last Tuesday the Municipal Services Committee voted 3-2 to recommend denial of a resolution calling for parking meter enforcement to cease for four days during Mile of Music in August. Concerns expressed included the challenges of getting parking spaces to turn over and be available without meter enforcement, the relative unfairness of waiving parking meters for this event but not others, challenges involved in making people aware of the lack of need to plug meters and more. That resolution will come before council Wednesday night.

Special Assessments, New Subdivision Portion:

Last Wednesday the Finance Committee again voted 3-1 to recommend approval of a modified version of the New Subdivision portion of the city's Special Assessment policy. The changes would move the responsibility for paying for the installation of permanent streets in a new subdivision from the developers (who had been either tacking it onto the price of new lots or charging property owners later) to the property owners themselves. The proposed new policy mirrors one the city had up until 2004.

This is the only part of the special assessment policy we'll be addressing at council on Wednesday. Assuming we reach a final resolution on this, we'll be taking up the utilities portion of the policy at Finance next Wednesday.

Wheel Tax:

Last week the Finance Committee voted to hold a proposal calling for Appleton to institute a "Wheel Tax" as a potential funding source for street repairs. That item will be revisited when the committee discusses the street reconstruction portion of the special assessment policy, likely in a month or so.

Finally, we do have one piece of new business on our agenda this week:

Minimum Wage Referendum:

The City Clerk's office recently received a petition with well over 4700 signatures calling for yet another advisory referendum in this fall's election. This one asks whether voters would be in favor of raising Wisconsin's minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. This would be the second advisory referendum added to Appleton's ballot, and a third has been added by Outagamie County.

Advisory referendums do not change policy in any way, but they are one way to measure and document voter support (or lack of support) for an issue or proposed policy change. Out of respect to the work that went into collecting all of these petition signatures, I plan on supporting their desire to have this question appear on the ballot.

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.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What you may not know: Week of July 7

Please accept my apologies for this week's belated post (and no post last week). I'm just getting back from a few days away over the holiday and working on catching up today.

With that said, the Appleton Common Council's first committee week of July is underway, and here are some of the items on my radar:

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

The much-maligned downtown parking meters will step back into the spotlight at tonight's Municipal Services meeting, where an action item and an informational item will discuss a temporary and permanent change to their enforcement.

First, the committee will take up a resolution submitted by four alderpersons at last week's council meeting calling for meter enforcement to cease during the active hours of Mile of Music 2, scheduled for August 7-10. The rationale is that the event will bring many first-time visitors to our downtown, and we'd rather not have a parking ticket be part of their introduction to the city.

The resolution also likely creates some additional challenges, though. For example, if we remove parking enforcement downtown during the event, what will keep someone from claiming a prime parking space on the first hour of the event and staying there all day (or all weekend?). Part of the attraction of the meters is their ability to keep spaces turning over, so people coming downtown have a better chance of finding a spot. 

I'm intrigued to hear the debate on this proposal. Allowing free parking during this event could be a good thing, if it can be done without creating major challenges.

The information item is one we've discussed before: Alderperson Kathy Plank's resolution calling for staff to study the possibility of removing meters downtown. This item was previously held until a full downtown parking study could be completed, but is back on the agenda this week. I'll be curious to see if there are any updates on the possibility.

Finance, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

Beyond the parking debate, virtually all of this week's major news is likely to come from Wednesday afternoon's Finance Committee meeting. Items on the agenda include:
  • The "New Subdivision" portion of the special assessment policy. Two weeks ago the committee voted unanimously to amend the plan to call for property owners in new subdivisions to be assessed for the installation of their permanent streets, as we did for subdivisions platted before 2004. From 2004 until now developers have been asked to place money in an escrow account to pay for that eventual construction. The portion of the policy we will debate on Wednesday deals only with new subdivisions. Portions dealing with reconstruction of streets and utilities will be discussed at later meetings.
  • Alderman Joe Martin's resolution calling for the city to institute a "Wheel Tax" of not more than $20 per vehicle to cover the loss of revenue if the city elected to eliminate special assessments. We're still in the very early stages of considering this proposal and it's not my favorite alternative to the existing assessment policy, but it is an option to consider and I'm glad we're getting the opportunity to discuss it.
  • A staff recommendation calling for the contract to construct the new Telulah Park Skate Park to be awarded to Miron Construction Company. This project has been sent out for bids once before but all of the bids were rejected as they greatly exceeded our budget for this item. On our second try we were able to get bids that more accurately reflect what we're prepared to spend. Assuming this request passes the committee and council, construction is expected to begin in early August and be completed in the fall.
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.