Monday, August 11, 2014

What you may not know: Week of August 11

Before I start with my committee week update, I'd like to take a moment to remind everyone that primaries for the November election will be held on Tuesday, August 12. If you live in Appleton's 13th district, your polling place is Faith Lutheran Church at 3100 E Evergreen Drive. The polls will be open from 7 am-8 pm, so please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the candidates and go vote.

Our committees are off on Tuesday to give everyone time to head out to the polls, but we still have a very significant week of meetings planned. Here are some of the highlights:

Human Resources, Monday, 6 pm

One of the action items on Monday evening's agenda is a request for council to set Aldermanic salaries to take effect after the 2016 April elections. Council is not allowed to vote on our own pay raises, so when we consider our own salaries we delay action for two years, when every member of council's current term will have elapsed.

Currently, members of Appleton's Common Council make $5,805 per year. That rate hasn't increased since going up 3% in 2009, and has gone up just twice in the last 12 years. The combined $85,705 spent paying all 15 alderpersons represents about 0.2%, or two thousandths of the city's net tax levy in our most recent budget.

Our council positions are intended to be part-time, but doing this job well requires a pretty significant time commitment. In addition to council and committee meetings (which frequently tie up 4-5 evenings every two weeks), most alderpersons spend a fair amount of time on meeting prep, working with staff and doing research to help understand and evaluate potential council decisions, working with constituents to answer questions and resolve issues, attending various other events and more.

The challenge with setting our own salaries is that "0%" is the easy answer politically. With that said, if we do that again this year we'll go all the way through 2016, a total of seven years, between salary increases. I think a modest raise is a fair request, and I hope we'll consider it.

Furthermore, I think the system by which we approve potential raises is part of the problem. I'm hopeful we'll consider tying potential council raises to some kind of metric (a percentage of the city's total tax levy, for example), to give ourselves an easy point of reference to use when making this decision in the future.

Finance, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

Most of this week's headlines are likely to come from the Finance Committee meeting, where we have one topic that's been sent back and another longstanding item that might be close to wrapping up.

First, at our last committee meeting we voted unanimously to approve a resolution of necessity allowing the city to negotiate with Trinity Lutheran Church and the owners of Michiels to potentially purchase the site for the new home for the Appleton Public Library. The issue was referred back to committee at council, however, so we'll be taking it up again on Wednesday.

This is the first time the council has been asked to approve anything related to this site, as the work on determining the future of the library largely falls upon the Library Board of Trustees. That body, however, has done a remarkably thorough job of looking at the possibilities and scrutinizing every option for the future. I think it would be a tremendous mistake for us to turn away from all of the work they've done.

And, of course, the committee also continues to work on our review of the city's special assessment policies. This week we're down to the main event: Street reconstruction. One of the items on our agenda is a resolution calling for the city to implement a wheel tax to pay for street repairs, replacing special assessment revenue and allowing us to eliminate the street portion of that practice.

Last week the council voted 15-0 to eliminate special assessments for sanitary sewer mains but continue to assess for laterals, which connect individual properties to the mains. I suspect that our previous action may set a precedent for a similar outcome here, with street reconstruction becoming the city's sole responsibility but connections (aprons, in this case) remaining the responsibility of the homeowner.

I also hope we'll consider an alternative I raised several meetings ago: Continuing to special assess for streets, but capping a property's potential assessment at a percentage of their assessed value. This would hopefully allow us to continue to repair streets without major budgetary impact, but also allow us to avoid (for example) charging $10,000 for street reconstruction to a corner property with a $65,000 assessed value.

Assuming the committees take action on these items this week and don't opt to hold them, all three items will come as recommendations before the full council on Wednesday, August 20.

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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