Monday, March 23, 2015

What you may not know: Week of March 23

The Appleton Common Council has our final committee week this week before the April 7 spring elections, and it'll be a busy one with several notable items appearing on agendas:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

Our first meeting of the week will be of interest to many residents of the 13th district, as the City Plan Commission will be asked to consider a request to rezone 22 acres of currently vacant property near the corner of Lightning Drive and Evergreen Drive for proposed multifamily and commercial development.

The properties up for rezoning are currently approved for commercial or agricultural use, but have been vacant for some time. The proposal calls for the portion of the property near Evergreen to be zoned commercial for future use and the back portion of the space to be zoned "R3," which would allow multifamily development to occur there.

Over the course of the last week I've heard from several of this property's neighbors with questions and concerns about how this rezoning could impact the value and quality of life at their homes or offices. I was unable to attend, but I know the developers held an informational meeting on Thursday night to address some of those concerns.

I still have more to learn before I'm prepared to vote in favor of or in opposition to this particular rezoning, but from past experience I can say the decision on properties like this usually hinges around some variation of the following three questions:

  1. Is there reason to believe that proceeding with the rezoning will have a negative impact on the value, function or safety of the surrounding properties, and do we have any level of certainty that those concerns are real and substantial?
  2. For the opponents of a project: If the proposed rezoning is not an appropriate use of this space, then what should go there instead?
  3. For the prospective developer: What steps can you take or have you already taken to ensure your proposed development won't have a negative impact on its neighbors?
Regardless of the recommendation of the Plan Commission, this project will need to wait for a period of public notice to pass before coming before the full council in late April or early May.

Utilities, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

The Utilities Committee will meet as scheduled on Tuesday of this week and the primary news from their gathering will likely be an information item, as they're expected to discuss a discrepancy between the budgeted amount and a preliminary estimate for the cost of a proposed new water tower on the city's northeast side.

The tower would hold one million gallons of water and would replace the function of the current Oneida Street tower, which is nearing the end of its useful life. For 2015 we've budgeted $2.9 million to construct the facility, and a recent round of estimates suggest the cost will be closer to $3.4 million. 

No official action will be taken on this matter at this meeting, but at some point the committee and council will have to decide to either proceed with this project at a higher cost or pursue other options.

Finance, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

We're close to closing the books on the 2014 fiscal year, and the Finance Committee will take a step in that direction on Wednesday when we're asked to consider carryover requests for unspent funds in the budget.

Each year we approve the following year's budget in November and it includes a wide variety of projects we expect to complete in the year ahead, but for a variety of reasons sometimes we're unable to finish everything we planned to do. The remaining unspent funds are applied in the following way:
  1. Any unspent funds already committed to a contract for their budgeted use are spent as budgeted.
  2. Council has the opportunity to approve extending projects without an approved contract into another year.
  3. A large portion of the money left over after steps 1 and 2 is applied to debt service, which is a part of the reason the city is routinely able to pay off our debts early.
  4. Some of the money left over after steps 1 and 2 is available to be used on items flagged for "special consideration."
This year the most notable carryover request is almost certainly the money budgeted in 2014 for the land purchase for the exhibition center. In addition, this year we have slightly more than $500,000 requested under Step 4 above. The lion's share of that money is flagged for pay increases earned by employees under the city's pay-for-performance salary model, but there are some other projects here worth noting:
  • Over $48,000 for the IT department for a software license upgrade and email and council recording upgrades.
  • $30,000 for the purchase of additional body cameras for the Police Department.
  • $10,000 for upgrades to the Department of Public Works' conference room.
  • $5000 for an additional Aquos board for use at City Hall.
  • $5000 for additional training for new staff members in the City Attorney's office, where two of the four attorney positions have turned over in the last year.
In addition to all of those committee items and more, there are also two very significant community events on tap this week:

On Monday at 6:30 the League of Women Voters will host a forum on proposed developments downtown at the library. Panelists at the forum include representatives from the city, Appleton Downtown Incorporated and the YMCA who will come together to discuss the proposed new library, exhibition center and improvements to the YMCA. The event is scheduled to last 90 minutes and will be divided between comments from the panelists and a question-and-answer session.

Then on Wednesday the League will also host a candidate forum for the six contested aldermanic races in the upcoming spring election. I wasn't asked to participate in this event as I don't have a declared opponent for this spring, but I likely will attend to hear the 12 incumbents and candidates' thoughts on the issues facing the city. The forum begins at 6:30 pm and is expected to last until 8.

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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