Monday, November 10, 2014

What you may not know: Week of November 10

This would normally be a full committee week for the Appleton Common Council, but much of that work will be overshadowed or rescheduled this week as the council wraps up the 2015 budget process. The full council will meet on Wednesday night at 6 pm to make final amendments before approving the end result.

A small handful of amendments were presented and passed at Budget Saturday:
  • Eliminating $10,000 budgeted to be contributed to the Fox Cities Regional Partnership, a local economic development organization.
  • Adding $8500 for the stormwater utility (an enterprise fund separate from the general budget) to study the geological and technical feasibility of a proposed stormwater project at Lions Park.
In addition to those amendments, I have pre-submitted the following proposals for consideration on Wednesday:

Sharing funding responsibility for the acquisition of a new police dog for our K9 program. In the past the City has asked for donations to raise money for the purchase and training of new K9 officers for the Police Department. This year's budget, as currently presented, includes $18,000 for the acquisition and training of a new dog. 

At Budget Saturday Mayor Hanna stated that the K9 units have become critical to the department's work, so he preferred to budget for them outright as opposed to seeking donations. My proposal would take us a step in that direction by maintaining funding for training and recertification of K9 units but removing funding for the acqusition of a dog and continuing to fundraise for that purpose. The cost savings of this amendment would be $9000.

Removing rent paid to Reid Golf Course for winter activities. As many of you likely know, the Parks and Recreation Department operates several winter programs at Reid Golf Course, including cross country skiing. The city currently pays rent to the golf course (an enterprise fund separate from the general fund) for the ability to use the facility and clubhouse during the winter. 

The golf course currently owes the city $165,000 as part of an interest-free general fund advance given to the course in 2002. The fund is scheduled to repay this money at a rate of $5000 per year for the next five years before halting payments for five years from 2020-24 and making two payments totaling $140,000 in 2025 and 2026.

I don't think it's right for the city to be paying rent to the golf course when the course still owes the city so much money on a 24-year interest-free loan. As such, I've submitted an amendment calling for the city to stop paying rent at Reid, instead applying the revenue that would have gone to the course to the course's debt. The cost savings of this amendment would be $8500 per year until the debt is repaid.

Restructuring street lighting improvements. The city's Capital Improvement Plan currently calls for $59,907 to be spent each of the next eight years upgrading city-owned decorative street lighting to LED fixtures. The upgrades will reduce energy usage on the lights, which reduces their operating cost and is also better for the environment.

As we enter some years of potentially increased borrowing, however, I think it makes sense to slow this project down a bit instead of tacking it on to our growing debt load. I've proposed an amendment that would change this project from every year for eight years to alternating over the next 16 years. Stretching this project out would remove nearly $120,000 from our borrowing combined in 2016 and 2018.

Eliminating proposed tennis courts at Highview Park. The Parks and Recreation Department's Capital Improvements Plan calls for the construction of new tennis courts at Highview Park on the city's north side in 2015. If you're not familiar with Highview Park, it's north of Highway 41 and in the neighborhood between Meade and Richmond Streets.

These courts would fulfill a "service area need," as the city has not owned any courts in this area since removing facilities at Memorial Park several years ago. This need is currently filled by an agreement allowing members of the public to use courts at Fox Valley Lutheran High School, which is about a mile and a half away from the park.

Highview Park is tucked away in a relatively new residential neighborhood, and isn't visible from any major street. Of the four streets that border the park, only one even connects to a major street. FVL, on the other hand, is on the corner of a county highway (JJ) and Meade Street, and is clearly visible to a lot of passing traffic.

I think both the city and the sport of tennis are better served by continuing to partner with FVL to provide access to tennis courts in an easy to locate, highly visible space than by constructing new courts that many of our constituents won't even know are there. I proposed an amendment to eliminate the plan to construct courts, which would remove $120,000 from this year's proposed borrowing.

Removing funding for re-purchase of industrial park lots. The 2014 budget contained $200,000 to be used for the repurchase of vacant industrial park lots that have been purchased by developers but not built. The money was not used but appears in the budget again for next year. Under the covenants of the park, purchasers have one year to begin work on their properties, and the city has the right to reacquire their lots if they wait too long.

A memo before the Community and Economic Development Committee in March of this year showed the following:
  • There were nine remaining purchased but undeveloped lots in the park. (A project has since begun on one of them, so eight remain). All of them have an explanation for their current development delays.
  • $200,000 would not be an adequate amount of money to repurchase some of those lots.
  • In addition, some of the lots in question had been re-sold without the city being given its right of first refusal, and it's unclear if we still have the right to repurchase them from their second owner.
Given these facts, I've proposed an amendment to remove this expenditure from the budget and remove $200,000 from our proposed borrowing.

If all five of these amendments pass, they would combine to remove $51,500 in general fund spending and $439,814 in city borrowing over the next five years. 

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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