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.

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