Monday, March 21, 2016

What you may not know: Week of March 21

We're back onto a committee week for the Appleton Common Council, and here are the items I'll be watching:

Parks & Recreation, Monday, 6 pm

The pool at Erb Park has been one of the more contentious issues we've discussed recently as a council, and the project will take another step forward this week as the Parks & Recreation Committee gets its first opportunity the review a pair of proposals for the new facility. No action will be taken on this item at this meeting.

MSA Professional Services, the organization handling design of the new facility, recently held a public input session at Memorial Park where they presented a pair of options. You can see Communications Coordinator Chad Doran's story on that event here, or view the full presentation for yourself if interested.

A vote to approve a final plan will be coming in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, the project remains on schedule. The pool will be open for one last season in its current form in 2016, with construction beginning immediately following the season and a new pool ready for 2017.

Additionally, on Monday the committee will be asked again to make a recommendation regarding a resolution calling for the site of the city's former water plant to be renamed Ellen Kort Peace Park, in honor of Wisconsin's first poet laureate. This process has been delayed a bit, but in the end I do not expect it to be controversial.

Finance, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

The process of closing the book on the 2015 city budget is just about wrapped up, and one of the final steps will happen this week as the Finance Committee is asked to make a recommendation on requests to carry unspent 2015 budget dollars over for 2016 projects.

The budget carryover requests can be divided into three groups:

  1. The items labeled "not under contract" are projects that were budgeted for 2015 but not completed for any of a variety of reasons, including available time or contract bids exceeding our budget allotment for any given project. This group also includes several contingency funds.
  2. 75% of any remaining unspent dollars after that, usually a result of vacant salary dollars and/or projects that came in under budget, are applied to debt service, which is part of the reason the city retains such low municipal debt as compared to any other city our size across the state.
  3. The remaining available dollars, slightly more than $600,000 this year, are available for "special consideration" expenses and projects. This year about half of those dollars are projected to go to "pay for performance adjustments" for city staff as part of the salary structure council approved a few years ago.
That leaves about $300,000 available for new projects. Here are some of the highlights from the requests for those dollars:
  • $115,000 to supplement 2016 budget dollars for our concrete paving program to compensate for contracts coming in over our budget estimates.
  • $37,252 to study a possibile upgrade for the 40-year-old power distribution system at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.
  • $35,890 to reconstruct portions of the city's North Island Trail.
Additionally, on Tuesday the Finance Committee will also be asked to recommend approval of a three-year contract with ThedaCare to provide health care services at a new employee health clinic. The contract calls for an hourly Nurse Practitioner, Registered Nurse and Medical Assistant to be available for eligible patients at a to-be-determined site to provide access to acute, primary, occupational health and preventive care.

On Tuesday the committee will hear from Associated Financial Group and ThedaCare about the objectives, savings and investment involved in this project. Some questions remain unanswered, such as where the clinic will be located and what our expenses might be for leasing said space. With that said, this seems like a prudent option to manage our organizational health care costs while also providing another option for our employees.

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. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

What you may not know: Week of March 8

With apologies for coming in a day late (it's rapidly becoming a busy time of year for me), here's a quick look at this week's committee highlights:

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

Despite the fact that this blog has been on hiatus for a couple of weeks, I've already written multiple times about the work being done to attempt to redesign the portion of County Highway JJ between Ballard and Lightning, as it passes by North High School and several commercial properties. That item will come before the Municipal Services Committee again this week, with a new recommendation.

Previous staff recommendations for this project had included a raised median the full length of the project, effectively barring all left turns onto or off of JJ into both the high school and neighboring businesses. Staff's new redesign still bars left turns out of the high school (and prevents traffic from going straight across from the high school to Kwik Trip), but includes left turn-ins for both the Citgo and Kwik Trip properties, along with the undeveloped commercial property east of Kwik Trip. The project does still include greatly improved pedestrian infrastructure at the high school exit.

This recommendation comes with the understanding that the left turn lanes into Kwik Trip and Citgo will likely need to be closed at some point in the future as traffic along JJ grows and the lanes' functionality decreases. Under this recommendation, the county would be able to close those lanes at their discretion at a future date.

While I applaud everyone who came to the table to work on this compromise and acknowledge that it's certainly safer than the current layout, I'm still a bit uneasy about it. The new recommendation features instances that are less safe for both vehicles and pedestrians. While I recognize the convenience and business concerns that led us to this decision, I'm having a hard time being willing to sacrifice safety, especially next to a school.

Mayoral candidate forum, Tuesday, 7 pm

While the discussion about Highway JJ continues at Municipal Services, a broader discussion about Appleton and its future will be happening at Einstein Middle School as the Post Crescent hosts a forum for Mayor Tim Hanna and mayoral candidate Josh Dukelow. You can see more details on that event here.

Board of Health, Wednesday, 7 am

From there, we'll be right back to City Hall first thing on Wednesday morning for another discussion on bees.

When council passed a resolution opening the door for permits for residential beekeeping last year, we outlined a process for permit approval that requires the notification of all property owners within a certain distance of proposed hives and the opportunity to object. If an objection is received, then there is an opportunity to conduct an appeal hearing on whether the permit should be approved. I wrote a fair amount about this process when it came up last summer.

On Wednesday the Board of Health will hear the first such appeal. I'm curious to see how this process will work, as it will likely set the precedent for future potential hearings. Additionally, this process might highlight any tweaks that need to be made to the ordinance going forward.

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. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.