While the 2017 budget process remains at the forefront of everyone's minds, the Appleton Common Council also has the following notable items scheduled to come before committees this week:
Human Resources/Information Technology Committee, Monday, 5 pm
This week the HR/IT Committee will be asked to make a recommendation on a tentative agreement for a new one-year contract with with the Teamsters-represented employees at Valley Transit. The contract calls for a 2% increase in wages across all represented positions. The city and Valley Transit's other municipal funding partners would recoup some of that expense by moving Transit's employees onto or closer to the insurance plans the city currently provides to non-represented employees.
All of this needs to be considered in light of current economic conditions: Upturns in the local economy have made it increasingly difficult for Valley Transit to fill vacant driver positions. I don't know if a 2% pay increase will help with that issue, but wage competitiveness during times of economic growth is a challenge we have to be cognizant of.
Speaking of wages, the committee will also be asked to make a recommendation regarding aldermanic salaries for the year following the April 2018 elections. These decisions are made well in advance so no member of the council is voting on their own salary: By the time this change goes into effect we'll all have faced re-election and our seats could potentially have turned over at least once.
The current aldermanic salary is $5921 per year, and is scheduled to increase to $5980 in April of 2017. Alderpersons also have the option of receiving a parking pass for the city's Blue Ramp (which I have declined).That 1% increase in 2017 will only be the fourth raise alderpersons have received since 2001.
The low salary of this position creates a very real accessibility issue. While the workload related to being an alderperson varies from week to week and season to season, the simple action of attending assigned meetings occupies somewhere between 3-6 evenings every two weeks. Most alderpersons would make more money if they spent those evenings working somewhere for minimum wage or tending bar. And, of course, attending meetings isn't the only responsibility of this position. That's never more apparent than it is in October, when we're asked to review and make revisions to a 660-page city budget.
The wellbeing of our city, short and long-term, requires qualified candidates to be able to serve their community in this way. Our current low salary creates a barrier to entry for anyone who may wish to serve but cannot afford to donate their time.
Utilities Committee, Tuesday, 5:30 pm
On Tuesday the Utilities Committee will be asked to recommend approval of a significant stormwater project to reduce flooding issues near businesses on the city's southwest side.
In May the city awarded a contract to RA Smith National to evaluate opportunities to eliminate runoff from Cotter and Haskell streets that was flowing under a building along Perkins Street. RA Smith looked at ten possibilities to address the issue and staff is recommending the city pursue "Alternative G," which calls for the construction of a wet stormwater pond at a cost of $426,000. This project also appears in the 2017 city budget .
Some of the area impacted by the current flooding and the potential stormwater pond is currently undeveloped. The evaluation and alternative both take into account that the property is expected to be developed someday, and will likely make it easier to do so. As such, addressing this problem completely and soon will help raise the city's tax base sooner rather than later.
Municipal Services Committee, Tuesday, 6:30 pm
The Municipal Services Committee agenda for Tuesday night includes an action item of specific interest to many of my neighbors in the 13th district: The speed limit along County Highway JJ.
Over my nearly four years as an alderman I've received a great deal of concerned phone calls and emails regarding the speed of traffic along Highway JJ as it passes North High School, a day care and the backs of many houses. The county has recently proposed a speed limit change from 55 to 45 miles per hour along the portion of the highway between Lightning Drive and French Road. This probably isn't as slow as many would like but it does reflect a significant improvement from the current situation.
Of course, County Highway JJ is a county highway, and as such Outagamie County has jurisdiction over the speed limit and will make the final decision. With that said, this week the committee has the opportunity to publicly support a change and I'm hopeful they'll do so.
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.