Monday, November 21, 2016

What you may not know: Week of November 21

As you might expect, the City of Appleton has a relatively quiet committee week built around the Thanksgiving holiday. All of our normal Tuesday and Wednesday committee meetings are either cancelled or postponed this week due to the holiday and Tuesday night's Christmas parade. In addition, November is a five Wednesday month, so there are very few scheduled meetings next week on the week of the fifth Wednesday. As such, this is likely to be my final update until Monday, December 5.

With that said, there are still a couple of meetings scheduled for tonight with a couple of notable items on their agendas:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

This week the Plan Commission starts what should be an interesting task, reviewing proposed amendments to the first five chapters of the city's 2010-30 Comprehensive Plan. State statute requires the city to have a comprehensive plan that takes 14 goals into consideration:

  • Promotion of the redevelopment of lands with existing infrastructure and public services and the maintenance and rehabilitation of existing residential, commercial and industrial structures;
  • Encouragement of neighborhood designs that support a range of transportation choices; 
  • Protection of natural areas, including wetlands, wildlife habitats, lakes, woodlands, open spaces and groundwater resources; 
  • Protection of economically productive areas, including farmland and forests; 
  • Encouragement of land uses, densities and regulations that promote efficient development patterns and relatively low municipal, state governmental and utility costs; 
  • Preservation of cultural, historic and archaeological sites; 
  • Encouragement of coordination and cooperation among nearby units of government; 
  • Building of community identity by revitalizing main streets and enforcing design standards; 
  • Providing an adequate supply of affordable housing for individuals of all income levels throughout each community; 
  • Providing adequate infrastructure and public services and an adequate supply of developable land to meet existing and future market demand for residential, commercial and industrial uses; 
  • Promoting the expansion or stabilization of the current economic base and the creation of a range of employment opportunities at the state, regional and local levels; 
  • Balancing individual property rights with community interests and goals; 
  • Planning and development of land uses that create or preserve varied and unique urban and rural communities; and 
  • Providing an integrated, efficient and economical transportation system that affords mobility, convenience and safety and that meets the needs of all citizens, including transit dependent and disabled citizens. 
Long term planning can be a bit of a challenge for local governments, as the common council cannot take any action to bind future councils. As such, the decision to stick to any plan approved by a previous council will belong to whoever sits on the council at the time. With that said, the plan update contains a fair amount of information and recommended steps to take in the years ahead. I completed my review of the first five chapters on Friday and shared several notes on Twitter about items that stuck out to me.

Parks & Recreation, Monday, 6 pm

Later tonight, the Parks and Recreation Committee will be asked to make a recommendation on the 2017 rates for Reid Golf Course.

Reid Golf Course is a city-managed enterprise fund, meaning it stands apart from the city's general fund, receives no property tax dollars and is supposed to sustain itself with its own golf revenues. Its financial situation is currently stable but its long-term outlook is uncertain, and it still owes $155,000 on an interest-free general fund advance it borrowed from the city in 2002 and isn't scheduled to finish paying back until 2025.

The vast majority of the golf course's revenues are generated via greens fees, of course, and the golf course's challenging financial situation makes it extra important to find the perfect balance for rates that maximizes revenue without having a negative impact on demand. This year staff's recommendation for the rates includes no actual increase for most rounds, but a shift to publishing and advertising rates that include sales tax.

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, November 7, 2016

What you may not know: Week of November 7

Our normal committee week schedule will be derailed a bit this week by our adoption of the 2017 city budget, which is scheduled for Wednesday night at 6 pm. However, there's still a fair amount going on to talk about:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

A recent issue involving special assessments will lead to an interesting conversation this week on zoning.

Across the city, when properties are special assessed they're billed based on their zoning, which may or may not reflect their actual use. For example, the 200 block of N. Fair Street, which is near downtown, is zoned as commercial property (the city's intended future use for this space) but currently contains single family homes. The special assessment rates for commercial properties are much higher than single family properties.

Last week Alderman Bill Siebers submitted a resolution calling for that specific group of properties to be rezoned to reflect their current use, and for staff to locate any properties across the city that may be in similar situations for further consideration for rezoning.

There's a lot to unpack as we discuss the specific and general topic of zoning and whether it should reflect the present or future planned use of spaces. I'm looking forward to this discussion.

Board of Health, Wednesday, 7 am

A frequently-discussed issue is back on a committee agenda this week as the Board of Health will meet on Wednesday morning to discuss the possibility of allowing chickens in the city.

This is a very polarizing topic for people, and I've received a fair amount of contact from residents on both sides of it. I also have some firsthand experience with this issue, as I used to live in a city that allowed residents to keep hens. It's been my experience that urban chickens, if properly regulated, do not cause major issues. Proper regulation includes limiting urban chickens to hens (no roosters), placing a limit on the number of chickens on a city lot and requiring bedding be regularly changed out to avoid odor issues. If those requirements are met, you're probably more likely to experience issues with your neighbor's dog or leaf blower than their chickens.

I'm sure we'll see extended debate on this issue on Wednesday morning, and I'd be surprised if that's the last time.

City budget adoption, Wednesday, 6 pm

Finally, the week's (and perhaps the year's) main event.

Wednesday is the final opportunity for alderpersons to make amendments to the 2017 Appleton City Budget before it is officially adopted. City staff asked for proposed amendments to be submitted in writing by Thursday afternoon, which was a pretty tight window given that the budget public hearing was only held on Wednesday night. Last I had heard, no amendments were submitted prior to that deadline. The entire budget is open for discussion on Wednesday night, however, and I do expect amendments to be proposed during that debate.

Personally, this year I have one budget amendment to propose, and I've already sent my apologies to staff for submitting it after the deadline. It covers the following:

  • Eliminating $8900 in rent the city pays to Reid Golf Course for usage of the facility for winter programs. Reid Golf Course still owes the city's general fund $155,000 on an interest-free loan from 2002, so I've asked for the rent to be applied to that debt instead of paid to the Golf Course Fund.
  • Reducing the Common Council's Training and Conferences budget by $554.
  • Funding a request from the Police Department to purchase ten additional body-worn cameras for police officers at a cost of $9454.
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.