Monday, June 20, 2016

What you may not know: Week of June 20

The first day of summer is also the first day of a busy committee week for the Appleton Common Council. While most of this week's discussions are unlikely to be controversial, I wanted to highlight a few discussions that I thought might shed some light on some of our processes:

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

The Finance Committee has a relatively brief agenda for our Tuesday meeting, but one of the action items calls for the city to reject bids and postpone scheduled work on a stormwater lift station in Arbutus Park.

The 2016 budget allocated $140,000 for the construction portion of a project to rehabilitate this facility, which raises up stormwater in this otherwise low-lying area to allow it to flow downhill into the storm sewers instead of backing up into the park. Unfortunately, our bidding process for this portion of the project was not as successful as we would have hoped: The city received just one bid on the project, and at $215,000 it's more than 50% above budget.

Decisions like this put us in a tough spot. Certainly, no one wants to go over budget on any project. However, this project was in our budget for this year because this work does need to be done. In this case, the staff recommendation is to reject all bids and put the project out for bids again in the fall. There's no guarantee that we'll receive more or better bids at that point, but that's what we're hoping for.

Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

Later that same night the Municipal Services Committee will meet to discuss three items of significant potential long-term interest:

  • First, the committee will be asked to recommend approval of the city's "Complete Streets Policy," a set of guidelines to use when designing future street projects. This item would set the basic expectations for future road reconstruction around the city and identify what requests for variation would require an appeal.
  • Next, the committee will discuss next steps in the city's effort to become a Railroad Quiet Zone. There aren't a lot of details in with the agenda, but the information items calls for a discussion of "which option to pursue for property owner notification."
  • Finally, the committee also has an information item to provide an update on a previous resolution calling for the Public Works and Parks & Recreation Departments to create and share a new position to coordinate efforts to expand and improve bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in the city. There's more to it than this, but the short version of this discussion is that a request to fund this proposed position has been sent to the mayor for his consideration as part of the 2017 budget.
Fox Cities Transit Commission, Wednesday, 3 pm

Of all the things I've had to deal with during my time on council, it's possible the funding mechanism for Valley Transit is the most complicated. The combination of federal and state funding that meets up with a local share split up among more than half a dozen municipalities (with contributions from three counties and various other organizations) creates a dizzying equation to attempt to follow.

This week we'll get another glimpse into that process as the Transit Commission will be asked to approve the acceptance of a pair of federal grants that will be combined with budgeted funds from previous years and a local share from the organization's depreciation fund to provide for the purchase of three new buses for the fleet.

The age, mileage and related reliability issues of the fleet is one of the greatest issues facing Valley Transit in its effort to remain viable for the long term. Three buses won't be enough to solve that, but it is a big step in the right direction and I'm glad to see forward progress on this front.

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.

Monday, June 13, 2016

What you may not know: Week of June 13

First off, my apologies for letting this blog lapse a bit. Here are my three excuses:

  • First of all, I try not to "cry wolf" and attract your attention to this space on weeks when I don't have anything of significant interest to discuss. We've had some quiet weeks as a council lately, and on those weeks I don't waste your time or mine by writing and asking you to read unnecessary updates.
  • Second, on a personal note, things like the Memorial Day holiday and my wedding anniversary led to me being out of town on a couple of weekends/Mondays when I would normally have written.
Anyway, enough excuses. I'm back at my desk now and here are some of the items we'll be discussing at our regularly scheduled Common Council meeting on Wednesday:

Cell phone towers

Several weeks ago I wrote about a Special Use Permit request from Verizon asking the city for permission to construct a new cell phone tower on Kesting Court, near the intersection of Northland Avenue and Meade Street. The proposed tower is very near multiple single-family homes (it could be as close as ten feet from the lot line adjacent to one property), which has raised a great deal of concern.

I share the residents' concern regarding this tower's impact value on their property values and quality of life. With that said, as I noted when a similar issue came up last summer, a 2013 amendment to state statute greatly limits our actions here. Full details on the statute are available at that last link, but the short version is that the city is not allowed to treat cell towers any differently than we would any other commercial building and cannot reject towers based on aesthetic concerns.

A vote to deny this permit would be a clear and blatant violation of state statute. I wish that both Verizon and the state had put us in a better position, but as we stand right now we have no choice but to allow this project to move forward.

South Oneida streetscape design

As the South Oneida Street reconstruction approaches, we've reached some of the decision points regarding the aesthetics of one of the most-trafficked entrances to downtown. Last week the Municipal Services Committee was asked to consider the Department of Public Works' recommendations for street lights in this area, and recommended a plan for approval (on a 3-1 vote) with the following amendments:
  • Adding semi-decorative city-owned LED lights from Roeland Avenue to the Skyline Bridge (except for one block) at a cost of $80,000.
  • Adding the same semi-decorative, city-owned LED lights on the bridge and up to Prospect Avenue at a cost of $40,000.
  • Replacing light poles from Wilson Street to the bridge with black fiberglass poles at a cost of $159,000.
All three of those amendments received at least one dissenting vote, so there was some controversy around the decision to add almost $280,000 in expenses to this project. I anticipate this item will receive significant debate again on Wednesday with a wide array of opinions on the value of decorative and/or uniform light fixtures.

Employee Health Clinic

Back in March I mentioned a proposal calling for the city and the Appleton Area School District to come together to work with Thedacare to provide a new health clinic for our employees and their families. Opening our own health clinic is projected to save the city a good deal in health care costs while providing employees more convenient access to acute, primary, occupational health and preventive care. At that time council approved a contract with Thedacare to provide this service at a space to be determined.

Last week the Finance Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of two items: An intergovernmental agreement between the city and the school district regarding cost sharing for this project and a lease for space for the clinic near Thedacare Regional Medical Center Appleton (formerly known as Appleton Medical Center). Neither item generated any major debate, so it looks like this project should move forward without issue.

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.