The last few weeks have been relatively quiet for the Appleton Common Council, but that all changes on Wednesday as the full body meets to consider a packed agenda. Here are some of the highlights:
The process to determine a mayoral salary for the next four years (April 2016-2020) has taken on a life of its own over the last several months, with various debates, refer-backs and amendments, and took another turn two weeks ago when the Human Resources committee voted 3-1 to recommend a salary decrease of $10,000 for the city's chief executive.
It's my opinion that the logic used to reach this conclusion was quite poor. The comparables used to set this recommendation were all significantly smaller cities than Appleton, and if you try to use those comparables and then adjust for population, size of budget overseen or number of employees overseen, you end up with a dollar figure that suggests our mayor is actually due a very significant raise, not a pay cut.
I remain in support of the committee's previous recommendation, which called for the mayor's existing salary to be increased by 1.5% in each of the next four years. I think that's a reasonable, small adjustment to a salary that serves its purpose well at this point.
Alcohol in parks
On the same night two weeks ago the Parks & Rec committee voted 3-1 to recommend approval of a resolution calling for a change in the rules regarding alcohol in city parks. Under this proposal park users would need a permit to bring alcohol into the parks.
As I've mentioned previously, Appleton is one of just two communities in the Fox Valley that allow alcohol in parks, and that's created a significant issue in a few of our downtown parks with heavy daytime drinking leading to a wide variety of undesirable behaviors. It's unfortunate that this issue has forced us to consider such a sweeping change, but it appears likely that any smaller changes would simply push the issue into another park or another location.
Special Assessment Policy
At the Finance Committee last week I was the lone dissenting vote on a recommendation to approve the city's proposed 2016 Special Assessment Policy, which includes a clarification that I find problematic regarding streets transitioning from "rural" to "urban" status.
When the city enacted the wheel tax and eliminated special assessments for street reconstruction this year, we attempted to draw a line in the sand between streets being reconstructed and permanent streets being constructed for the first time to replace temporary streets in new subdivisions. The clarification mentioned above addresses a third type of street that fits neither of those classifications: a "rural" street that needs to be improved after being annexed into the city or due to expansion of the city. The item we're being asked to approve will allow for property owners to be assessed when their streets are upgraded. This impacts a fair number of locations across the north side of the city, including French Road.
French Road was recently repaved but is technically still considered a "rural" road. I'm concerned about how this clarification to the policy could impact residents who were assessed for that repaving and could face another assessment when that street eventually has to be modernized.
Expo Center Room Tax Agreement
Finally, we've reached another decision point on the process of constructing an exhibition center in downtown Appleton. On Wednesday we'll be asked to approve a proposed intergovernmental agreement with the various municipalities that pay into the Fox Cities' room tax, calling for them to increase their rates to finance the bonds that would be needed to proceed with this project.
Getting this approved by all nine participating municipalities is one of the two major hurdles that need to be cleared to make this happen - the other is the management agreement between the city and the hotel. I'm more concerned about the latter: As I've previously said, I think this project could be a great thing for the city if done the right way and without significant risk. The management agreement is, to me, where the rubber hits the road on that issue.
I should also note that these agreements are coming directly to council in a bit of a break from our typical decision-making procedure. There is a critical timing element here, as this item needs to be heard and approved by nine member communities (some of which only hold one meeting per month) before the end of November. For that to be possible, we need to take it up early and quickly to leave time for others to take action.
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.