Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What you may not know: Week of November 13

With the city budget passed and the holidays upcoming, we're likely looking at a quiet final six weeks or so for the Appleton Common Council in 2017. I likely will not have updates for you next week, when most of our committee meetings are off for the Thanksgiving holiday or the week after, as the council does not meet on weeks of the fifth Wednesday of the month.

Before we get to that break, however, we do have some business to tend to this week:

Safety & Licensing Committee, Wednesday, 6:30 pm

Several years ago the council voted to ban alcohol on quadricycles or "pedal pubs" in the city. Earlier this year The Social Station started operating an alcohol-free quadricycle in the city and their first season has largely gone by without any concerns. After extended discussion with the Police Department and the proprietor of The Social Station, Alderman Joe Martin introduced a resolution that will likely lead to us revisiting our previous decisions on this topic.

Alderman Martin's resolution is very specific, calling for The Social Station patrons to be allowed to carry alcohol on board (no alcohol will be sold on the quadricycle) on a designated route. While I recognize and support what Alderman Martin is trying to do, I'm hoping to expand the scope of the resolution to create an end result that doesn't just apply to one business and one route.

I anticipate a lively discussion on this topic on Wednesday night but a likely end result is this resolution being referred to staff to discuss potential broader ordinance changes.

Parks and Recreation, Wednesday, approximately 6:45 pm

Once the Safety & Licensing Committee wraps up its meeting the Parks and Recreation Committee will take their place to discuss an item that could impact the future of Memorial Park.

It has recently come to our attention that two properties along Northland Avenue near the park are available for sale. Memorial Park's recently updated long-term plans noted that these parcels of land would be worthwhile additions to the park if possible, and recent developments have put us in a position to consider it. The asking price for the two properties is a combined $240,000, and the purchase would be made out of an existing park land fund.

Both of the meetings listed above are special meetings before our scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday night. If the committees elect to take action on either of these items at their meetings, their action will be taken up by the full council later in the night. 

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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 6, 2017

What you may not know: Week of November 6

It's the busiest week of the year for the Appleton Common Council, as this is the week we're expected to adopt a 2018 city budget. Before we get to that, however, we also have committee business to tend to tonight:

Finance Committee, Monday, 5:30 pm

Monday evening's Finance Committee agenda includes a few items of significant interest:

  • Staff has again asked the committee to approve an intergovernmental agreement with the Appleton Area School District to lend the district short-term cash to help ease challenges created by the differences between when the school district receives revenue and when it has to make expenditures. The maximum AASD can borrow as part of this agreement is $17.5 million and any borrowed funds are required to be repaid to the city with interest by June 30.
  • The next step in the process to determine the future of the Appleton Public Library is a Request For Proposals (RFP) for mixed-use developments including a library within the city's downtown area. The RFP will come before the committee this week with one notable change from the last discussion: The RFP deadline has been extended to January 12 and no council or library board action on the final result is expected until February at the earliest.
  • The process of renovating Jones Park was expected to begin yet this fall but staff has asked the committee to recommend rejecting all bids for proposed 2017 work to allow the project to move to 2018 following the completion of the Fox Cities Exhibition Center. There is hope that combining all of the work in the park into one project will create efficiencies that could lower the total cost.
Budget Adoption, Wednesday, 6 pm

Finally, on Wednesday night the Common Council is expected to conclude our month-long budget review process by adopting the City of Appleton's proposed 2018 budget. This year at our annual Budget Saturday review session the following amendments were approved:

  • The city's contribution to the Fox Cities Regional Partnership was decreased from $36,000 to $25,000 and the remaining revenue was earmarked specifically to support FCRP's "Talent Upload" program.
  • A capital project for $62,765 was added to the Public Safety Capital Projects Fund to allow for the replacement of a Police Tactical Robot. 
  • $102,909 was added to the Police budget to allow for salary and equipment for a new Behavioral Health Officer.
  • $100,000 budgeted for design and preliminary work at Ellen Kort Peace Park was removed from the Facilities Capital Projects Fund.
The following proposed amendments were not approved:
  • Reducing the budget for Common Council training and conferences by $2000.
  • Expanding the Department of Public Works' crosswalk enhancement plan by $40,000 to include the intersection of College Avenue and Shaefer Street.
There are six more proposed amendments on the agenda for Wednesday night, including three of mine:
  • A change to Reid Golf Course's repayment schedule on a 2002 cash advance from the general fund, calling for the city to eliminate $11,500 in rent payments to the golf course and instead apply that amount to the course's outstanding debt.
  • An addition of $6600 to the City Clerk's budget to allow for a tuition reimbursement.
  • Moving three capital projects totaling $104,632 from debt-funded to general fund status using surplus revenue available from unexpected state aid, and as such lowering the city's 2018 borrowing package and future debt service expenses.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, October 23, 2017

What you may not know: Week of October 23

It's easily the busiest time of the year for the Appleton Common Council as our annual budget review is underway. Our regularly scheduled committee meetings are also taking place this week, including one meeting that will likely draw a fair amount of attention:

Safety & Licensing, Wednesday, 5:30 pm

A month ago this committee was asked to consider a resolution submitted by Alderpersons Vered Meltzer, Bob Baker and Patti Coenen discussing the role of the Appleton Police Department as it relates to the enforcement of federal immigration laws. At that time the item was referred to the City Attorney's office for further review of the legal ramifications of passing this resolution, which calls for the city to continue to not use local, discretionary resources to pursue undocumented immigrants except as necessary for public safety.

I've received a fair amount of feedback and questions on this resolution over the last six weeks or so. One of the pieces of information that I think is most important to know here, and which I've now discussed with a fair number of contacts, is that the actions called for in this resolution are no different from what the APD is already doing.

The APD's primary function is to promote and provide public safety. As such, any action they may take that causes potential witnesses or victims of a crime to be fearful of coming forward is detrimental to their ability to prevent and/or solve said crimes. The resolution before us was titled "Resolution Reaffirming the Public Safety Function of Local Law Enforcement," and that's effectively what we're being asked to do here: To ensure that discretionary actions we could take as related to immigration law don't impinge upon our ability to protect public safety.

Finance Committee, Saturday, 8 am

As I mentioned above, the process of setting the city's 2018 annual budget has moved on to the Common Council. One of our biggest annual meetings is this Saturday as the Finance Committee will come together to spend the full day reviewing the 660-page document and the $170 million in spending outlined therein.

This year it took me 15 days to read through the budget in its entirety and on Friday afternoon I pre-submitted 53 questions to the mayor and department heads. This weekend's session is our first opportunity to discuss the budget in its entirety (although many committees have already discussed their portions of it) and for the Finance Committee to propose amendments.

From here the budget moves on to a public hearing in front of the full council on November 1 and any final amendments and the final budget adoption are scheduled for November 8.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, October 16, 2017

What you may not know: Week of October 16

The Appleton Common Council will hold our regularly scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday night, but before we get there another notable meeting will have happened:

Library Board, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

Efforts to determine the future of the Appleton Public Library will take another step forward this week as the Library Board will be asked to review and approve a request for proposals (RFP) related to potential mixed-use facilities on the current library site or nearby within the downtown area. This item is also expected to come before council before being approved.

The RFP (which can be seen via the attachment at this link) lays out specific expectations for the library's required space (120,000 square feet), its expected role as the anchor of any development and its requirements for access. It also includes a map that clearly delineates the area to be considered and a requirement that any developer submitting a proposal be willing to take on the task of acquiring the properties they suggest if they intend to utilize non-city owned parcels. Additionally, any proposal involving the current library site is required to include plans for a temporary library during construction.

Assuming this RFP is approved on schedule, proposals would be due in by December 8 at noon and discussion on any proposals recommended for consideration would likely happen early in 2018.

Moving on to items on Wednesday's Common Council agenda:

Aldermanic salaries

As elected officials, members of the Common Council are prohibited from voting on our own salaries. As such, once each year we take up the task of setting a salary for our positions two years in advance, after all of our current terms have expired. Last week the Human Resources and Information Technology Committee was asked to consider aldermanic salaries starting in April of 2019, and voted 4-1 to give them a zero increase and remain at $6129.50 with an optional parking pass for the city's soon-to-be-demolished Blue Ramp.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index suggests that the rate of inflation from August of 2016 to August of 2017 was 1.93%, so a zero increase is effectively a pay cut when considered against inflation. The August-to-August CPI inflation calculation was used to help determine 2016's 2% increase and 2017's 1.1% increase. I'm hopeful that, at a bare minimum, council will consider adjusting the position's salary slightly to avoid falling behind inflation.

However, even a simple inflation adjustment would ignore a larger issue: Demand for seats on the Appleton Common Council is remarkably low. In 2017 eight seats (including mine) were up for re-election and we had just one contested race. In one case we had an uncontested race for an open seat. In 2016 just two of our seven seats had contested races. In the five years since I first ran for council in 2013 63% of the aldermanic races have gone uncontested, including 80% in the last two years.

As I noted in my budget preview a couple of weeks ago alderpersons are tasked with, among other things, oversight, review and adoption of the city's $170 million annual budget. The city's ability to function going forward depends on our ability to continue to find qualified and engaged people to serve on our council. More and more often, we're finding that people aren't interested. Given that the position pays less than $6000/year (the $6129.50 figure cited above doesn't take effect until next April), it isn't hard to imagine why we aren't seeing many candidates.

In virtually any other business, opening jobs for applications and routinely hearing from one or zero applicants would be a cause for alarm and reevaluation. As a council, we've been there for years. I'm hopeful we'll do something to attempt to address this.

Finally, an update on an item that will appear on our agendas in the future:

Trick or Treating hours

In Appleton the official trick or treating hours are from 4-8 pm on Halloween night, which is a Tuesday this year. These hours have been in place since before my election to the council but every year I receive a few complaints and requests to alter the plan to better match our neighboring municipalities, who largely have shorter windows for this event. As such, two weeks ago I submitted a request for the city to re-evaluate our trick or treating procedures going forward.

Last week the Safety & Licensing Committee discussed this item for the first time and opted to delay action until December. No action will be taken on this item this week, and the trick or treating hours for 2017 will remain at 4-8 pm. However, the committee will take this item up again at our December meeting and may consider proposing changes for 2018 at that time.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

2018 Budget books have arrived


Apologies for a light couple of weeks of posting: Things have been relatively quiet on our council agendas and I've been occupied elsewhere.

That will change over the next few weeks as the 2018 Budget arrived on our council desks this evening. This year's book is 660 pages long and contains slightly more than $170 million in spending, including our enterprise funds, capital projects and debt service.

The budget schedule for the next six weeks or so is as follows:

October 28: Budget Saturday - The Finance Committee's all-day budget review session.
November 1: Budget Public Hearing - The public's opportunity to come weigh in on the 2018 budget.
November 8: Budget Adoption - The final opportunity to make amendments to the budget before it is approved.

So, if you're looking for me anytime between now and November 8, look for the guy carrying around the giant blue binder full of Post-It tabs.

Monday, September 11, 2017

What you may not know: Week of September 11

The Appleton Common Council has a full committee schedule this week, and here are some of the highlights:

Finance Committee, Monday. 5:30 pm

The City of Appleton's municipal borders have seen a great deal of changes over the years and are rarely square due to single property annexations, boundary agreements with our neighboring municipalities and other factors that make it difficult to simply draw straight lines on a map. These issues have come to the forefront again recently as the Town of Harrison and Town of Menasha incorporated into the Villages of Harrison and Fox Crossing, further complicating border issues.

This week the Finance Committee will be asked to review a resolution submitted by my predecessor, Alderman Jim Clemons, in 2009 calling for the city to develop a ten-year plan to take action to "square off" municipal borders.

While challenging to achieve, having a collection of easily defined and clear borders would allow the city to improve efficiency when providing services. Around our borders there are a significant numbers of peninsulas and islands where various city/village/town departments have to drive across another municipality to provide services to their constituents.

Getting to that point, however, is not as easy as it sounds. Transferring property between two municipalities impacts both communities' tax bases, as one loses the property value and another gains it. In addition, bringing property into the city creates challenges related to the expansion of city infrastructure (especially utilities) and disposing of dated infrastructure like septic tanks. Once the city has invested in building roads and utility mains to a property, it's unlikely we're going to happily forfeit that tax base and hand it to another municipality. Similarly, it's unlikely other municipalities will simply forfeit property to us just to allow us to square off our borders.

In the end, I suspect this could lead to an interesting discussion on priorities and the value of efficiency as compared to preservation of our tax base.

Parks and Recreation, Monday, 6:30 pm

Back in July the Common Council received a resolution from Alderpersons Bob Baker, Vered Meltzer and Keir Dvorachek calling for the city to take a collection of actions in response to climate change and the threat that the federal government will attempt to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The four actions requested by the resolution are:

  1. (The City) Indicates its commitment to reducing GHG emissions through future implementation of a Climate Action Plan; and 
  2. Join other US cities in the Climate Mayors network in adopting and supporting the goals of the Paris Agreement; and 
  3. Commits to exploring the potential benefits and costs of adopting policies and programs that promote the long-term goal of GHG emissions reduction while maximizing economic and social co-benefits of such action. 
  4. Form a Climate Change Board, to be filled by citizens of Appleton, city officials, and city staff to help set these goals and policies.
It's my understanding that the mayor recently met with the three authors of this resolution to outline actions the city is currently taking to encourage sustainability as part of our participation in the Green Tier Legacy Communities. Tonight the Parks & Recreation Committee will be asked to make a recommendation on this resolution in that context. 

Over the last few months I've received a significant amount of contact from individuals interested in seeing the city take a stand on this issue. Hopefully this item will present a positive opportunity for the city to discuss actions we've already taken and possible opportunities to continue to improve.

Community and Economic Development, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

The time of year has come once again for the city to begin work on Community Development Block Grants for the year ahead. Per usual, the city is expected to receive about $535,000 in grants from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and those funds will provide resources for a collection of city programs and grants to local organizations. 

As one of the first steps in the CDBG process, on Wednesday the CED Committee will be asked to recommend approval of the city programs expected to receive grant funding:
  • $115,000 for the Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program
  • $60,000 for the Appleton Housing Authority
  • $40,000 for the city's Neighborhood Program
  • $75,000 combined for the city's CDBG administrative costs and Fair Housing Services.
In addition for 2018 these requests include an expansion of the Appleton Police Department's "Summer of Service" program. The initiative, which has been active in the city for several years, works with at-risk teens to develop teamwork, work ethic and engagement skills. Receiving grant funding would allow for the expansion of this program to cover some of the Police Department's costs and offer a stipend to the students involved, which greatly raises the interest level in participating. The PD's grant request is for $51,847.71 to expand the program.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Council Invocation for September 6

Tonight I have the honor of giving the invocation before our regular council meeting. Here is the statement I plan to share:

Typically when asked to give the invocation I start with two goals: The first is to be brief, and the second is to be lighthearted. I'll still be brief tonight but in light of recent events, the cleanup from a hurricane immediately adjacent to the preparations for another and wildfires raging from Montana to California, tonight does not seem like an appropriate time to stand up and tell a joke.

So tonight I come to you with two things: First, a request to take a moment today to think of those that have lost everything, and those on the edge of losing still more.

Second, I wanted to share with you my sincere hope that, on the worst day of your life, you'll find someone who sincerely wants to offer assistance, and that they'll help without asking why you need it.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

What you may not know: Week of September 5

Hopefully everyone is back from a safe and happy holiday weekend. The Appleton Common Council will hold our regularly scheduled meeting this Wednesday, and here are some of the highlights from our agenda:

2018 Special Assessments

As I mentioned in my last update, work continues to establish a policy for special assessments for the city's street and utility work for next year. Special assessments for street reconstructions were eliminated when the city's Vehicle Registration Fee (aka "Wheel Tax") was implemented three years ago, but assessments and the related policies remain for the construction of new streets and underground utility work.

Two weeks ago the Finance Committee voted unanimously to approve a proposal that includes one significant change related to homes located on commercially zoned property. Those properties will now be treated the same as R2 (multifamily) properties in regards to assessments. This change was made in response to issues experienced along N. Fair Street following last year's assessments.

Library Process

Also last week the Finance Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of a request for the Appleton Public Library to proceed with work on a Request For Proposals (RFP) for a future mixed-use library. Assuming council votes to proceed with this process, we are expected to see and vote to approve the final RFP before it goes out.

Southside Regional Park

A proposed regional park for an underserved area of the city on the south side has been in discussion for a long time but, for a variety of reasons, has never quite come to fruition. The process of rectifying that issue took a step forward two weeks ago when the Parks & Recreation Committee voted to recommend that staff begin negotiations with property owners to attempt to acquire space for the proposed park. As noted in Madeleine Behr's Post Crescent story, any final agreement or decision to purchase land would require another council vote to approve. However, this represents real progress on a longstanding issue for the first time in a long time and I'm excited to see it moving forward.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, August 21, 2017

What you may not know: Week of August 20

The Appleton Common Council has a relatively quiet committee week planned with one notable exception:

Finance Committee, Monday, 4:30 pm

As I mentioned two weeks ago and in last week's update, the Finance Committee has begun the work to make a recommendation for the city's 2018 policies for Special Assessments, As I noted two weeks ago, special assessments for street reconstructions were eliminated when the city's Vehicle Registration Fee (aka "Wheel Tax") was implemented three years ago, but assessments and the related policies remain for the construction of new streets and underground utility work.

The major sticking point in this year's discussions and the reason this item was held at Finance two weeks ago is a resolution by Alderman Bill Siebers calling for the city to assign special assessments to properties based on their usage and eliminate the current practice of basing their assessment on their zoning. This discussion began several months ago when council was asked to modify special assessments for properties along N. Fair Street that are residential in nature but received a higher assessment for utility work due to their commercial zoning. At Finance this week we will be asked to make a recommendation on whether we should change the policy for similar properties or continue to take up appeals on a case-by-case basis. I prefer the former, which I feel will allow us to be consistent and fair.

Additionally, this week the Finance Committee has an action item related to a pending Request for Proposals for mixed-use development plans incorporating the Appleton Public Library. This item would not be a commitment to proceed with a mixed-use project but approving it would be a clear indication that the city is on board with continuing to explore this option in conjunction with the Library Board.

Finally, the Finance Committee's agenda also includes requests for the committee to make recommendations on the following:

  • A budget adjustment to allow the Fire Department to move funds from a Training Tower improvement project to pay for additional personal protective equipment for firefighters to fulfill a need outlined in a recent Post Crescent story.
  • A proposed $300,000+ contract with Vinton Construction for trail and riverbank improvements at Lutz Park.
  • A proposed $150,000+ contract with Miron Construction to make additions to the skate park at Telulah Park.
You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, August 14, 2017

What you may not know: Week of August 14

The Appleton Common Council will meet on Wednesday at 7 pm (or following the conclusion of one or more committee meetings scheduled to occur before our main meeting). Here are some updates on items we discussed in last week's update that will proceed to council this week:

  • The Municipal Services Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of a new Special Event Parking Fee Rate to help address challenges with large volumes of vehicles trying to exit at the same time following events at the Performing Arts Center.
  • The Municipal Services Committee also voted to deny a resolution from Alderperson Meltzer calling for the city to waive street occupancy permits for businesses looking to install bike racks. I'm still hopeful something can be done in this area.
  • The Finance Committee received favorable reports on the city's planned 2017 borrowing, which includes a total of $19 million between current general fund projects, refinancing of existing general fund debt and capital projects for the stormwater utility. The committee voted unanimously to recommend that the city proceed with the borrowing process.
Additionally, these items discussed last week will not be acted on by council this week for the reasons stated below:
  • The Finance Committee opted to hold the 2018 Special Assessment Policy until next week to address some confusion about process related to a resolution changing the way residential properties within commercial zoned areas are assessed. 
  • The Joint Review Board voted to approve the creation of two new TIF districts, and their action does not require council approval.
Finally, this week's council agenda again includes three consolidated action items related to the discontinuance of Locust Street south of College Avenue. These items, which are part of the city's tentative agreement with Canadian National Railroad regarding the acquisition of unused railroad trestles over the Fox River, have been delayed while the city waits for the railroad to take necessary steps on their end to approve the agreement. Council was ready to proceed with these items a month ago now but has continued to hold them while waiting for Canadian National to respond.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, August 7, 2017

What you may not know: Week of August 7

It's been a quiet few weeks for the Appleton Common Council, hence my lack of posts: In an effort to maintain a solid signal-to-noise ratio I make an effort not to waste your time or mine producing blog posts on weeks where there isn't much of large public interest going on.

With that said, this week projects to be a busy committee week for the council. Here are some of the meetings of interest:

Municipal Services Committee, Monday, 4:30 pm

This afternoon the Municipal Services Committee will be asked to consider a change to downtown parking rates that could have a significant impact on the traffic ramp users experience when trying to exit downtown following events at the Performing Arts Center.

The city's pay-on-exit parking ramp systems can create long queues of users when large groups of people, including many unfamiliar with the parking ramp infrastructure, all leave the PAC at the same time following a performance or other event. Staff has asked the committee to approve a special parking rate and procedure that would allow ramp users to pay a flat fee on entry when going into the ramp for selected special events, which would hopefully allow pre-paid users to exit the ramp in a more timely fashion and avoid long delays.

In addition, today the Committee will discuss for the first time a resolution submitted by Alderperson Vered Meltzer calling for the city to waive street occupancy fees for businesses wishing to install bike racks in the street right of way. I'm looking forward to learning more about how this could work.

Finance Committee, Monday, 5:30 pm

The Finance Committee has a very busy agenda this week. First, we are expected to receive a final briefing and recommend approval for the city's already-budgeted 2017 borrowing package, which will include just under $14 million in General Obligation Notes (to be repaid by property tax dollars) and $5 million in Storm Water Revenue Bonds (to be repaid by the Stormwater Utility). We also anticipate issuing Water Revenue Bonds (to be repaid by the Water Utility) at a later date this year. These bond issuances are a routine part of our budgeting process, as the time has come to borrow money for capital projects included in the 2017 budget.

Additionally, this week the committee is expected to recommend approval of relocation orders for two properties adjacent to the city's "blue" parking ramp, the ramp immediately adjacent to City Hall. That ramp has reached the end of its usable life and is expected to be demolished in the years ahead, but it shares walls with two neighboring buildings and cannot be torn down independently from those structures. As such, those buildings will also need to be vacated to make way for the project.

Furthermore, this week the Finance Committee is expected to review, potentially amend and make a recommendation related to the city's 2018 special assessment policy. A quick recap of how we arrived here:

  • Special assessments for reconstruction of existing, permanent city streets were eliminated a few years ago when the city's Vehicle Registration Fee (aka "Wheel Tax") was enacted. Revenue from the fee is used to replace the expenses the city used to recover via special assessments in these cases.
  • Special assessments remain in place, however, for utility work, new streets and the transition from temporary to permanent streets. 
This week we will discuss items related to the latter policy and attempt to establish a policy that will allow us to budget for anticipated 2018 projects.

Finally, this week the committee also has an information item related to the process of moving forward for the Appleton Public Library. Last month the Library Board approved a measure calling for the board and the city to work together to explore the possibility of a mixed-use development to include a new library. While we're still very early in this process, there are some jurisdictional challenges and indistinct boundaries between roles that likely need to be ironed out before we can proceed. While that discussion will take place this week, this is only an information item on the agenda and no official action related to the library will be taken at this meeting.

Joint Review Board, Wednesday, 1 pm

In my last update I mentioned proposed plans for the city to create two new Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts, our 11th and 12th such districts in the city. The districts would be generally located on the east and west ends of downtown. Follow that previous link for more details on how TIF financing works. 

The Joint Review Board is made up of representatives from the four taxing entities (the city, Outagamie County, the Appleton Area School District and Fox Valley Technical College) that would be impacted by the development of one or more new TIF districts. In all proposed cases, the taxing entities would not lose revenue but would see their revenue from properties within the TIF district frozen while the "increment," the additional taxes collected on these properties due to their increase in value, is used to repay the borrowing done to create needed improvements in these areas. 

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, July 10, 2017

What you may not know: Week of July 10

It's been a quiet few weeks for the Appleton Common Council:

  • Our regular council meeting on the first Wednesday of the month was cancelled for July in observance of the Fourth of July holiday.
  • With that meeting cancelled, most of the committee meetings from the prior week that would typically have referred items to our council meeting were also cancelled and had their items postponed to this week.
So, with all of that said, many of our committees have busy agendas this week. Here are some of the highlights:

Joint Review Board, Monday, 10:30 am
City Plan Commission, Tuesday, 4 pm

Two meetings will be held this week to discuss and make recommendations on a staff request to create two new Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts, generally located on the east and west ends of downtown. Madeleine Behr of the Post Crescent outlined the proposals on Friday. 

TIF financing is generally used to spur development or to make necessary infrastructure improvements to allow or enhance development in areas where development or redevelopment could otherwise not occur. Once a district's boundaries are identified and a TIF district is approved, here's a basic outline of how the financing process works:
  • The amount of property tax revenue going to the four taxing entities (the city, county, school district and FVTC) from properties within the district is frozen for the duration of the TIF financing period.
  • Money is borrowed to finance the TIF's expenditures, which may include infrastructure improvements, developer incentives, etc, with the goal of increasing property values within the district.
  • As the property values within the district increase, so does the amount of property tax revenue collected. Any revenue over the "frozen" amount listed above is the increment, and is used to pay down the borrowing.
  • Eventually the debts are repaid and the TIF district is closed. At that time, the taxing entities are again allowed to collect the full value of the property taxes.
As such, it's worth noting and reminding you that TIF financing, including developer incentives, does not use general fund property tax dollars and will not impact your property taxes in any way. When the city (or any taxing entity) uses TIF financing, the money borrowed is financed against future tax revenue increases for the specific area, and tax rates are unchanged.

Municipal Services Committee, Monday, 4:30 pm

On Monday the Municipal Services Committee will also be asked to make a recommendation on the next step related to the city's railroad trestle acquisition and efforts to make the city a railroad quiet zone.

Both the city's trestle acquisition agreement and quiet zone process rely on our willingness to close a street railroad crossing near the corner of Locust Street and Lawrence Street near downtown. This week the committee will be asked to approve the discontinuance of Locust Street at that crossing as part of that process. If approved the street closure would not happen immediately but is likely to occur before the end of the year.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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 12, 2017

What you may not know: Week of June 12

The Appleton Common Council has a busy committee week scheduled, and here are some of the highlights:

Finance Committee, Monday, 5:30 pm

Earlier this year the council was asked to react to an unusual situation regarding our special assessment policy, where a collection of single-family homes on commercially-zoned property received assessments much higher than they expected because their property's zoning did not match its use. Following that action, Alderman Bill Siebers introduced a resolution to amend our special assessment policy to eliminate this issue. That resolution has been held for a few months but will be back before the committee tonight.

In addition, tonight's Finance Committee agenda includes an information item (for discussion only) on the process involved in moving forward with plans for a new Appleton Public Library. During previous efforts to move forward on this issue there have been some philosophical differences between the Library Board, a body independent from council charged with oversight of the library and its operation, and the Common Council, who controls the library's budget. Tonight's information item is expected to be a discussion on those two roles and how they interact in the process of considering a large capital project.

Library Board Planning Committee, Tuesday, 4 pm

In a related note to the prior item, on Tuesday one of the Library Board's committees has an action item calling for consideration of three options that could help shape the conversation going forward:

  • Refreshing the existing site selection matrix used when the board recommended the "bluff site" in 2015.
  • Re-making the site selection matrix.
  • Soliciting proposals for a mixed use library within a geographical range of the existing library site.
All three options would include consideration of the current site as an option within the re-evaluation of potential sites. And, of course, none of this represents a final decision: Any action taken at this meeting is a committee recommendation to the full library board on priorities to consider when or if proceeding with the decision-making process.

City Plan Commission, Tuesday, 4 pm

At the same time as the aforementioned Library committee meeting, the City Plan Commission will be asked to make a recommendation on a zoning change for another expansion of a subdivision north of County Highway JJ.

This time the specific request calls for 15 more single-family residential lots to be added to the Emerald Valley subdivision, which is located north and west of the intersection of Highway JJ and French Road. This follows closely on the heels of the most recent approved addition to the same subdivision, which council approved in April.

I do not intend to oppose this rezoning but I do continue to mention them as they come up because, as I've noted previously, continued expansion on the north side does carry some hidden costs in our road, utility, fire protection and school infrastructure.

Community and Economic Development Committee, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

Finally, on Wednesday the Community and Economic Development Committee has a scheduled appearance and presentation that may interest many residents of the city's north side. Representatives from ThedaCare will be present at the meeting for a discussion on their process related to a proposed regional hospital and its impact on the city. Public conversation on this topic has been quiet for some time now, so I'm looking forward to an opportunity to hear the latest on what's happening.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, May 22, 2017

What you may not know: Week of May 22

Before I get to this week's (relatively light) update on the Appleton Common Council's Committee schedule, an update on an item we've discussed at great length previously:

Dogs in Parks

As you may have heard, last week the Appleton Common Council (with Mayor Hanna breaking a 7-7 tie) voted to approve a resolution amended to allow dogs on sidewalks and trails within our city parks. The resolution was amended down to include just the sidewalks and trails in parks, but will include the sidewalks and trails in all parks (as opposed to a previous amendment limiting the number of parks) once the final ordinance is adopted.

And there lies the point I want to emphasize: The current ordinance banning dogs in parks remains in place until the new ordinance is adopted. This will likely happen at our next full council meeting on June 7. Until then, please continue to follow the existing ordinance.

Now, on to this week's committee agendas:

Finance Committee, Monday, 5:30 pm
Safety & Licensing Committee, Wednesday, 5:30 pm


This week both of the committees listed above will be asked to make a recommendation on an intergovernmental agreement with Outagamie County that could lead to new voting equipment for the city's 2018 elections.

All told, Outagamie County has 33 municipalities conducting elections during each cycle, and they're using a wide array of voting and vote tabulating equipment on each election day. This creates significant challenges when the time comes to count the votes, so the county has a vested interest in making sure as many municipalities as possible are using the same equipment going forward. They've proposed a cost-sharing measure to help municipalities get on the same page.

Of course, trying to get all of the municipalities on the same page regarding what equipment is best creates a new set of challenges. For the city, this includes the following:

  • A seven-member procurement team for new voting equipment would include just one representative from the City of Appleton.
  • Outagamie County understandably has no interest in purchasing equipment for use in other counties, so the city could bear some additional expenses to purchase matching equipment for the portions of our jurisdiction in Winnebago and Calumet counties.
While I understand the county's motivations for pursuing this action, we have a responsibility to make sure the city's interests are protected to the fullest extent possible. I'll be interested in hearing more about how this could work for all parties.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, May 16, 2017

What you may not know: Week of May 15

The Appleton Common Council has our regularly-scheduled Wednesday meeting this week, and our agenda includes a few items we discussed in last week's update:

Auto sales on Clark Street

Last week the City Plan Commission voted unanimously to reaffirm their recommendation that the city grant a Special Use Permit to an existing car repair shop at 524 N Clark Street (north of downtown between Packard and Atlantic Street) to allow them to also display and sell cars from that location.

As I wrote in last week's update Clark Street is very narrow and the properties along it are mostly residential, so the neighbors have some very understandable concerns about noise, traffic and parking as they relate to the potential impact of the business expanding. This street is not an appropriate place for the increased traffic or test driving of vehicles, especially high-performance vehicles, and as such I do not intend to support the permit.

Dogs in parks

Last week the Parks & Recreation Committee again amended my resolution calling for the city to lift its outdated ban on dogs in city parks. Their amendments included the following:

  • Removing a previous amendment that called for dogs to only be allowed in six parks near the river.
  • Adding a proposed restriction calling for dogs to remain on sidewalks, trails or roads and be restricted from access to playgrounds, athletic fields, picnic areas, lawns, courts, skateboard parks, disc golf courses, pavilions and pool areas.
  • Doubling the fines for violations of dog-related ordinances.
These amendments are something of a mixed bag for me: I requested the first one and was pleased to see it pass. The second is, in my opinion, an overreaction to a set of far-out circumstances that are unlikely to occur (although I'm amused by the premise of dogs taking over a swimming pool), and the third is problematic: Fines for dog-related offenses in the city already exceed $300, so a ~$700 fine for a first offense being caught with an unleashed dog seems excessive to me.

At any rate, I'm pleased to see this item continuing to move forward and I'm hopeful we can make some adjustments to it before casting a final vote on Wednesday night.

Bees and chickens

Last week the Board of Health voted unanimously to approve a resolution calling for the city to expand urban beekeeping to be allowed on the rooftops of commercial buildings.  They voted against, however, a resolution calling for the city to amend its rules regarding urban chickens to allow chicken runs larger than 24 square feet. 

I'm concerned by the latter vote, which seems to go against all good science and best practices regarding the keeping of urban chickens. I'm hoping we'll fix that on the council floor.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, May 8, 2017

What you may not know: Week of May 8

The Appleton Common Council has a busy committee week ahead (I have five meetings on my calendar, for those of you that like to count my workload and determine if I've earned my salary). Here are some of the highlights:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

Last week the Common Council referred a request for a Special Use Permit along North Clark Street back to the Plan Commission for further discussion, so it will appear on their agenda again this week.

North Clark Street is a very narrow street north of downtown with no parking on both sides and homes very close to the road. In this area (the 500 block) it's also a border between residential properties to the north and west and commercial properties to the east. VL Performance operates an auto repair shop in this neighborhood and has recently applied for permission to expand their business to include automobile sales and display. This has drawn some concern from their neighbors, who have concerns about adequate parking, noise and congestion on their narrow road.

Across the city, borders between zoning types create occasional challenges due to differences in usage, hours of operation, infrastructure needs and the like. The commission and eventually the council will have a challenge here to balance these issues.

Parks & Recreation, Monday, 6:30 pm

Our discussion on dogs in parks resumes tonight as the Parks & Recreation committee will receive and could act upon a report from staff on the possibility of partially or entirely lifting the city's longstanding and outdated ban.

I submitted the original resolution calling for the city to lift its ban three weeks ago, and two weeks ago the committee voted to amend the resolution to lift the ban in six parks along the Fox River: Lutz Park, Vulcan Heritage Park, Peabody Park, Telulah Park, Jones Park and the future Ellen Kort Peace Park. They then referred the item to staff for further study.

While I appreciate the compromise the committee is discussing and will support it if we can't do better, tonight I plan to ask the committee to please return to discussing my original resolution. In the past I've argued against creating two different sets of rules in our parks, as I feel it will create confusion about which parks fall into which category and make an ordinance that's already difficult to enforce even more challenging to follow.

Either way, I'm hoping this committee will take action tonight so the item can go to council next week.

Board of Health, Wednesday, 7 am

A couple of old favorite topics will be back on the agenda this week for the Board of Health, as they will be asked to consider the following:

  • A resolution to expand urban beekeeping to allow bees on commercial rooftops.
  • A resolution to amend the ordinance regarding urban chickens to expand the maximum chicken run size from 24 square feet to 100 square feet.
The former resolution is, at least in part, a response to the fact that our existing ordinance and the challenges it creates have led to zero applications for urban beekeeping in the city since its approval. The latter is an attempt to correct the damage done by an amendment on the council floor during our debate on chickens, and restore our ordinance to something that better reflects best practices. I intend to support both.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, April 24, 2017

What you may not know: Week of April 24

This week the Appleton Common Council will hold the first round of committee meetings for a new aldermanic year. This year I'm happy to report I'll be representing the 13th District on the following committees and commissions:

  • Safety & Licensing Committee (where I'll be serving as chair for the third year)
  • Finance Committee
  • Fox Cities Transit Commission
I've also previously served as chair of the Central Equipment Agency Review Board, and I'm hoping to be reappointed to that body this week.

A new council year also means our first opportunity to revisit actions taken by previous councils: Our council rules state that a new council can, by resolution, reintroduce any item approved or rejected by the old council. As such, our first notable item this week will probably seem familiar:

Parks & Recreation, Monday, 6 pm

Last week I re-submitted a resolution calling for the City of Appleton to lift its outdated ban on dogs in parks. You may recall that council last discussed this item in July of 2016, and it failed on an 8-6 vote. Two seats on the council have since turned over, making this issue worth exploring again.

This year I've written the resolution to specifically highlight one of the cruxes of the argument in favor of allowing dogs in parks: The city already allows dogs in virtually every other public space (sidewalks, trails, dog-friendly businesses) and already has ordinances in place to govern their and their owners' conduct. We already require dogs to be leashed, we require their owners to pick up after them on public and private spaces, we require the Police Department to be informed in the event of a bite or attack, and we require them to be kept out of spaces where food is being prepared for sale.

Those existing ordinances have been deemed sufficient to allow people and dogs to operate and interact in virtually every public space in the community, and we see very minimal issues from those interactions. As such, I've asked the Parks and Recreation Committee and Common Council to consider lifting the ban on dogs in parks and treating parks as we treat any other public space in this regard.

Allowing dogs in parks also creates a series of positive benefits for the community, including but not limited to:
  • Opportunities for pet owners to further socialize their animals as part of their training process and reduce the risk of future adverse reactions to meeting new people or other animals.
  • Increasing usage of many of the city's less-trafficked parks, reducing the risk of illegal activity in low-traffic spaces.
  • Making the parks a less attractive space for undesired and/or messy wild animals (most notably geese along the Fox River) to congregate.
I recognize this issue will likely be controversial again, and I anticipate this will likely be the first of several times we discuss it again. It has been my experience, however, that the city's ban on dogs in parks makes our community a less attractive place to live for many pet owners who would otherwise happily and responsibly reside here. I'm looking forward to the day when we change that.

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

As you may know, the city and Canadian National Railroad have been involved in discussions for many years about the possibility of the city acquiring unused railroad trestles over the Fox River for use in expanding our waterfront trails. The discussions regarding the possible transition of the trestles have been long and challenging, but this week the Finance Committee will be asked to approve an agreement that would transfer ownership of three such trestles and some surrounding property to the city.

The donation agreement before the Finance Committee this week is 35 pages long (you can see it for yourself at the attachment here, if you like), and reflects years of work to take the next step in making our riverfront a more attractive place for pedestrians and bicyclists. I'm looking forward to seeing it completed.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, April 17, 2017

What you may not know: Week of April 17

A new year begins for the Appleton Common Council this week, as our two new members will be sworn into office on Tuesday and will have their first full council meeting on Wednesday. On Wednesday night at 6 pm we'll hold our annual council organizational meeting to establish the rules for the new council. At 7 pm or as soon as possible following the conclusion of our first meeting, the council will also meet in our regularly-scheduled session to take up items including the following:

North side subdivision expansion

A few weeks ago I wrote about another proposed addition to the Emerald Valley subdivision, which is north of Highway JJ and west of French Road. The City Plan Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the expansion, which would add eleven new single-family lots.

Expanding this subdivision is the right thing to do for the city as we expand our tax base. I supported this request at Plan Commission and intend to do so again this week, but will again do so with a reminder that continued north side expansion does come with some hidden costs related to city infrastructure. We're already aware of the fact that we're likely soon going to need to purchase an additional fire engine and hire additional firefighters to fully staff Station #6, which covers this area.

Additionally, adding more homes to the northeast corner of the district will likely once again increase the student population, albeit slightly, at Huntley Elementary. While decisions regarding schools are not within my jurisdiction, last week I met with Appleton Area School District officials to relay many of the concerns I've heard about development on the north side as it relates to schools. What I learned is that the district is currently working on a study to analyze their space needs. I will continue to monitor this issue as it progresses.

Diversity Coordinator Position

At our last meeting council approved a request to move our currently vacant Diversity Coordinator position from the Community and Economic Development Department to the Mayor's Office. This week that process continues as council will be asked to act on the Finance Committee's recommendation to move funding from CED to the Mayor's budget to cover the position's salary and benefits.

In the meantime, the position has been re-posted with the updated job description and I'm hopeful we'll have a great candidate filling this role soon.

Urban chickens

A resolution calling for residents of the City of Appleton to be able to keep up to four hens was introduced in October and has now been discussed on eight occasions at the Board of Health and previous Common Council meetings. This week, however, I feel confident that we could finally take a final action on it.

Two weeks ago council voted to reconsider our March 15 vote to approve the resolution. At that time I asked and was granted a request for council to hold the item until this week's meeting and the seating of a new council. Our council rules allow a new council to re-open any decisions made by previous councils, so any vote at our April 5 meeting could have been immediately overturned and put back on the table by a new council. To avoid the risk of making a decision that would only be undone two weeks later, I asked for council to wait to take action until a truly final action was possible.

In the meantime, the Board of Health has voted to recommend approval of a specific set of rules and regulations regarding chickens and that item will also appear on our agenda this week. The specific rules that could come up for discussion and/or amendment include:

  • A limit of four hens, and no roosters.
  • An appeal process to the Board of Health.
The proposed inspection fees ($145 for an initial inspection and a $59 re-permitting fee) have also come up numerous times in debate but are not part of the approved policy, so I'm not sure where they stand as a proposed policy or as a topic for debate this week.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, April 3, 2017

What you may not know: Week of April 3

Before I get to this week's council update, please allow me to remind you one final time that Wisconsin's 2017 spring elections are on Tuesday, so please make plans to get out and vote. If you live in Appleton's 13th district, your voting location is at Faith Lutheran Church at 3100 E Evergreen Drive. While you're there, I'd be honored if you'd consider voting for me.

Even if you don't live in the 13th district, there is a statewide race on the ballot for Superintendent of Schools and other local races. Visit myvote.wi.gov for more information or to find your polling location.

Meanwhile, the Appleton Common Council will return from our week off to hold our regularly-scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday, and the notable items on the agenda are largely items we've discussed before:

Urban chickens

As I mentioned in my last update, our close vote on a resolution to allow the keeping of up to four hens on residential property in the city left the door open for an absent alderperson to request the item be reconsidered, and it's back on our agendas this week. Follow that last link for a recap of the events leading us to this point.

I remain supportive of allowing hens in the city, having witnessed first hand the successes and low impact experienced by other municipalities that have taken this step. Whether we pass it this week, two weeks from now or sometime further down the road, I'm hopeful we'll take steps to allow this and see the non-issue that it is for ourselves.

Diversity Coordinator position

Two weeks ago the Human Resources and Information Technology Committee voted 3-0 (with two members absent) to recommend approval of a staff request calling for our vacant Diversity Coordinator position to be moved from the Community & Economic Development Department to the direct supervision of the Mayor. This move better reflects the wide array of responsibilities for this position and I'm hopeful we'll approve the move so we can get back to searching for a candidate to fill this important role.

Reid Golf Course

Two weeks ago the Finance Committee voted 3-1 to recommend denial of a resolution calling for the city to forgive over $150,000 in general fund advances to Reid Golf Course and take on $575,000 of the course's outstanding debt.

If you watch video of the discussion you'll see some analysis of the course and associated enterprise fund's economic situation: It is currently making money but likely will not be able to finance some of the necessary improvements needed to improve or maintain the facility in years to come. While I'm not indifferent to this issue, I will not support measures calling for taxpayers to subsidize this facility.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, March 20, 2017

What you may not know: Week of March 20

The Appleton Common Council has a busy committee week ahead but, before I get to that, here's an update the item that's capturing everyone's attention recently:

Urban chickens

In my four years on the Appleton Common Council, it's possible there's never been more confusion about the meaning of an outcome of a vote than there has been over the last few days. Here's a quick rundown of the last few months as they pertain to a resolution calling for Appleton to allow the keeping of up to four chickens on residential property:

  • Last fall Alderperson Meltzer submitted the resolution and it was referred to the City's Board of Health, who discussed it at several meetings before finally taking a vote on it at their March meeting. Their vote was split 3-3. Because a majority is required for the board to take any affirmative action, the item was sent along to council as a recommendation for denial.
  • Last week the council met with 14 members present and one absent and the vote on the resolution was also split, 7-7 this time. At council when a vote is tied the mayor is asked to break ties. Mayor Hanna voted in favor and the resolution passed.
  • However, any alderperson on the prevailing side of a vote or any alderperson who was absent for a vote has the ability to ask council to reconsider the vote at their next meeting. In this case the absent alderperson was Council President Kathleen Plank, whose vote would have decided the outcome. Our next council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 5 and it seems likely that we'll be voting on this resolution again at that meeting.
So, to sum up: The resolution calling for chickens to be allowed in the city passed, but could be reopened. It's not legal to run out and get chickens or apply for a permit to have chickens just yet, and no official action will be taken on this item this week or next.

Now, with that update out of the way, here are some items that are on committee agendas this week:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

The latest proposed expansion of development north of County Highway JJ will likely take another step forward this week as the City Plan Commission will be asked to recommend approval of a rezoning request that would make eleven new single-family lots in the Emerald Valley subdivision, which is largely between Providence Avenue and French Road and north of JJ. This is the third addition to the subdivision, which was originally platted in 2005.

This addition to the subdivision is relatively small and unlikely to be controversial but it serves as another reminder that this area, which was almost completely unpopulated about a decade ago, continues to grow and our city services and infrastructure need to be continually updated to meet expanding demand. This will probably not be the last or largest addition to this subdivision, as the developers still own significantly more undeveloped land to the west of this area.

Human Resources Committee, Monday, 5 pm

The city is now closing in on a year without a Diversity Coordinator, as the previous holder of the position resigned last summer. The search for someone to fill this important and difficult to define role has hit a few challenges along the way but could take a step forward this week when the Human Resources and Information Technology position will again be asked to make a recommendation on a request to move the position from its current home in the Community and Economic Development Department to the mayor's office. This item was held at the committee level two weeks ago.

The suggested move comes with an amended job description (which you can see as an attachment here) and a likely but not finalized shift in pay scale to compensate for an increased scope of responsibilities. If this passes the search for candidates would be reopened.

Diversity, you may realize, is a remarkably broad topic to attempt to address with one position. Attempting to define the role of this position is a challenge but I think what we have here is a positive step in the effort to do so. I'm hopeful this item will move along this week and we can resume the process of trying to get a great applicant to fill this role.

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

As I've discussed previously, Reid Golf Course is an enterprise fund operated by the City of Appleton that is, in concept, supposed to be revenue-neutral and run without support from general fund (property tax) dollars. In 2002 the course was struggling financially and the Common Council voted to give the fund an advance from general fund dollars. Council later also voted to make that advance interest-free. As a result, Reid Golf Course still owes the city $155,000 in general fund dollars and all but $15,000 of that amount isn't expected to be repaid until 2025 at the earliest. In addition, the course owes $575,000 in principal on a bond issuance from 2012.

Three weeks ago Alderman Jeff Jirschele proposed a resolution calling for the city to forgive that loan to the enterprise fund and take on Reid's debt as its own. Two weeks ago the Finance Committee elected to hold that resolution, and it will appear on their agenda this week.

I'm curious to hear debate on this issue, but I'm strongly opposed to any effort that would call for tax dollars to subsidize a golf course, either via a direct contribution or by shifting the burden of the fund's debt to the taxpayers. We have many priorities as a city that should far and away outrank this one.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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.

Finally, a quick programming note: The month of March has five Wednesdays, and the council typically does not schedule meetings for the week of a fifth Wednesday of the month. As such, there are no scheduled committee or council meetings next week and so I will likely not post an update next week. Look for my next post on the week of Monday, April 3.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What you may not know: Week of March 13

The Appleton Common Council is likely to have a very busy regularly scheduled-meeting on Wednesday night, in addition to a rescheduled committee meeting:

Municipal Services Committee, Wednesday, 6 pm

The agenda for this week's rescheduled Municipal Services Committee meeting contains an information item that will be of local interest for many residents of the 13th district: The tentative schedule for this summer's reconstruction of County Highway JJ between French Road and Ballard Road.

This is a county project, so the city does not have approval over the schedule. They have, however, provided us with the following estimates:
  • From now through early April there are likely to be daytime restrictions on Highway JJ as utilities are relocated to make way for the project.
  • From early April through early May the focus will be on "Stage 1" of the project, which is a stormwater pond at the northeast corner of JJ and Lightning Drive. Daytime restrictions on JJ are listed as "possible" during this window.
  • In early May, the county will close the intersection of JJ and Lightning to reconstruct it and its approaches. JJ traffic will be detoured back out to Highway 41 via Ballard Road and County Highway N. The north entrance/exit to North High School will remain open.
  • On June 8 the remaining portion of JJ (from the school driveway to Ballard Road) will be closed, and no access to any abutting properties off of Highway JJ will be available.
  • All roadways are expected to be reopened for the Labor Day weekend and first day of school in September.
As always, all of these timelines are tentative and depend on a variety of factors.

Speaking of estimated timelines, at 7 pm or as soon as is feasible following the conclusion of the aforementioned committee meeting the common council will hold our regularly-scheduled meeting to discuss topics including the following:

Urban chickens

After several months of discussion, last week the Board of Health finally voted on a resolution calling for Appleton to allow residents to have up to four hens on their property, and they split a 3-3 vote. The item comes to council this week as a recommendation for denial, but council will have the final word on this issue.

I've heard from folks on both sides of this issue, but for me there are two notable points here: precedent and policy.
  • On the precedent side, I would point to the variety of cities (93 of the top 100 US cities and six of the eight largest cities in Wisconsin) that currently allow the keeping of hens. There are countless examples of cities that have taken this step and have not experienced issues with it. Green Bay and Oshkosh both allow chickens. The two cities have issued a combined 82 licenses and have never had to revoke one.
  • On the policy side, staff has made a very clear effort to create a proposed policy that would be in place to address any concerns that may come up, including noise, smell, rodents, predators, disease, escape and manure disposal. Every effort has been made to ensure that staff will have an opportunity to step in if someone's chickens become a problem.
Given these two facts, I see no reason to unfairly limit anyone who wishes to keep chickens and is willing to submit to the limitations of our proposed policy.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, February 27, 2017

What you may not know: Week of February 27

While this week technically starts in February, Wednesday is the first Wednesday in March. As such, it's a full council meeting week for the Appleton Common Council, but we have some business to take care of in committee first:

Finance Committee, Wednesday, 6:15 pm

Last week's Finance Committee meeting had to be rescheduled due to last Tuesday's primary election, so the committee will meet Wednesday night before council to take up their action items. They'll be asked to approve seven contracts for projects this week including bridge maintenance, street, sewer and water reconstructions and two roof replacements.

The biggest ticket action item on the agenda for Wednesday, however, is the latest package of bids for the ongoing Exhibition Center project. This package includes 15 components of the project, easily our largest package to date. The good news out of all of this is that the combined components are under budget (this group is $10.4 million) and the project continues to proceed on time and on budget.

Additionally, on Wednesday the Committee will be asked to approve a settlement with CVS Pharmacy related to an ongoing lawsuit over their property assessment. Last week the Post Crescent had a great overview of a property tax loophole allowing "big box" retailers to claim their property should be assessed at the value it would hold if it were an empty store, instead of at the facility's market rate. The difference between the two is significant and could have a major impact on property taxes if the loophole is left in place. Last week the Community and Economic Development Committee unanimously approved a resolution calling for the State Legislature to close the loophole. Until or unless they do so, however, we have no choice but to settle suits like this.

Common Council, Wednesday, 7 pm

The remaining items of note on the council agenda are things we discussed last week. Here's an update on where we stand:

  • The Human Resources Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of reorganization requests from the Police Department (modifications in the Administrative Services Division), Fire Department (merging Battalion Chief positions, creating a new training position and shifting the balance of Captains/Lieutenants) and Valley Transit (creating flexibility in the number of part-time drivers hired).
  • The Municipal Services Committee also voted unanimously to approve a change to the city's snow removal policy that would remove driveway aprons from the list of spaces required to be cleared by property owners. At the meeting it was discussed that this portion of the ordinance rarely comes up in practice, and it's rare for a community to require aprons to be cleared.
You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, February 20, 2017

What you may not know: Week of February 20

Before I get to this week's (relatively light) list of council updates, please allow me to remind you that the spring primary election is tomorrow (Tuesday, February 21). The State of Wisconsin has a primary for Superintendent of Public Instruction. In addition, voters in Appleton's ninth district will have three candidates on the ballot for their aldermanic seat.

If you live in Appleton's 13th district you can vote at Faith Lutheran Church at 3100 E Evergreen Drive. If you don't know your district or your polling location, you can find it at this link.

Our schedule is moved around a bit this week to accommodate the election, but it is still a committee week for the Appleton Common Council. Here are some of the items I'll be watching:

Human Resources and Information Technology Committee, Monday, 5 pm

This week the Human Resources Department is bringing forward three requests to alter the Tables of Organization of city departments:

  • The Police Department has a multiple-part request involving oversight of their Administrative Services division. The change would eliminate some redundancies and overlap in responsibilities, and consolidate related activities under one supervisor.
  • The Fire Department is currently reevaluating their management structure following the recent retirement of their longtime Deputy Chief, and has a request calling for two Battalion Chief positions to be merged, a new Civilian Training and Resource Development position to be created and a shift in the balance of Captain/Lieutenant positions from 8/13 to 6/15.
  • Valley Transit is requesting permission to shift their part-time driver positions from four established positions to a variable amount of positions depending on need.
None of these moves have major budget ramifications or will result in major changes in service, but I applaud all three departments for working to find opportunities to perform their work more efficiently and effectively with the resources they have. Taking advantage of opportunities like this to streamline and find efficiencies isn't always noticed but it pays off in the long run.

Municipal Services Committee, Thursday, 5:30 pm 

Given our recent trend of warm temperatures, most of us probably aren't thinking about snow. This week, however, the Municipal Services Committee will be asked to consider a change to the city's stance regarding snow removal. 

Currently, the city's snow removal ordinance requires snow to be removed from sidewalks, handicap ramps and driveway aprons within 36 hours following a snow event. Staff is proposing a change to the ordinance to remove driveway aprons from that requirement.

I'll be curious to hear the discussion on this item: Driveway aprons are typically part of the street right-of-way (city property), so a city decision to allow them to remain uncleared could create some risk of liability in the event that someone slips and suffers an injury.

In addition, this week the committee is expected to discuss new sidewalks that could be installed along Northland Avenue as part of this summer's project to reconstruct the Northland/Richmond Street intersection. I don't have a lot of details on the proposal at this time but I'm looking forward to learning more. 

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

What you may not know: Week of February 5

First off, my apologies for missing last week's update: I was sick and had all I could handle balancing that and other responsibilities.

This is the first committee week in February for the Appleton Common Council, and here are the highlights from a light week of agendas:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm:

For the last several meetings now the City Plan Commission has been conducting a chapter-by-chapter review and update of the City's Comprehensive Plan, which contains goals and aspirations for every city department and was completed in 2010. This week the Commission will be asked to approve all of the chapters we've reviewed to this point, allowing us to make any necessary amendments before sending a recommendation to council for their meeting next week.

To date the commission has reviewed updates to 14 chapters, including:

  • Community Vision
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Utilities and Facilities
  • Natural, Historic and Cultural Resources
  • Economic Development 
  • Land Use
  • Planning for the downtown corridor
  • Parks & Recreation
This process hasn't drawn a lot of attention, but the Comprehensive Plan is something that's referred to and discussed frequently in deliberations on a variety of important city decisions. While nothing in this plan is binding for future councils, it is a framework for the future of our community.

Board of Health, Wednesday, 7 am:

On Wednesday, for the fifth consecutive month, a resolution calling for Appleton to allow the keeping of urban chickens will appear before the Board of Health as an information item and no official action is expected.

Over the course of several discussions on this topic it's become pretty clear that there's a diverse array of opinions on chickens among the board members (including two council members and the mayor). To date issues that have become challenging for the board have been neighbor notification/approval and the application fee structure.

While I appreciate the efforts the board has made to give this item a fair and thorough discussion, at this point I'm just hoping they make a recommendation, any recommendation, so this item can move on and be discussed and voted upon at council. That's not expected to happen this month, so the earliest the board could vote on it at this point is Wednesday, March 8.

Fox Cities Transit Commission, Wednesday, 3 pm:

A few hours later on Wednesday, the Transit Commission will meet to take a very long overdue step to help Valley Transit continue to provide reliable transportation services across the community in the years to come.

VT's maintenance staff has done remarkable work in recent years to keep buses running while working with a rapidly aging and deteriorating fleet, which includes buses that were purchased in the 1990's and have logged over one million miles. For some time now we've been engaged in a process to purchase new buses, which has included the following:
  • Applying for and waiting for approval of federal funds for their share of capital projects.
  • Budgeting the local share of a bus purchase with funds collected from all of VT's member communities.
  • Determining how best to allocate the funds available to make the most and highest quality improvements to the fleet.
  • Locating a larger transit organization making a bus purchase that will allow us to "add on" to their purchase to ensure availability of buses at a reasonable price.
Two weeks ago the Transit Commission learned that staff had located an organization to work with, and this week the Commission will be asked to approve the purchase of three buses. This isn't a cure-all for everything ailing an organization that faces many challenges, but it is a step in the right direction.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, January 23, 2017

What you may not know: Week of January 23

It's a busy committee week for the Appleton Common Council, so let's get right to the highlights:

Parks and Recreation, Monday, 6 pm:

Through the winter the Parks & Recreation Committee has been receiving biweekly updates on the construction progress at Erb Park and Pool. This week they'll be asked to make a recommendation on a pair of updated pool policies that, among other things, establish new fees for usage of that facility.

The facility rental fees for Appleton pools have not been updated since 2013, and here is the redlined table showing the proposed modifications:
Pool admission fees for Appleton pools have not been updated since 2011. The proposal before the committee calls for daily fees to remain the same at Mead and West Pools ($3.50/day for adult open swim, $2.50 for youth and seniors) but calls for a $1 across the board increase for users at the new Erb Pool ($4/day for adults and $3 for youth and seniors).

Additionally, this revision calls for a $5 increase in the cost of pool punchcards and increases in price for annual swim passes.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

Two weeks ago I mentioned that the Municipal Services Committee was being asked to make a recommendation on a proposal calling for the end of free parking in city-owned ramps during snow emergencies, a change largely proposed in response to challenges allowing that practice with the city's new "pay on exit" parking ramp structure. That meeting was later cancelled due to weather, so the item now appears on their agenda again this week.

In addition, this week the committee will be asked to make a recommendation on city staff's requests to remove two sets of traffic signals along Franklin Street, at its intersections with Superior and Oneida streets. The city's recent downtown mobility study found these lights to be unnecessary, and if you've passed by them recently you may have noticed signs stating that they were being considered for removal, and that the lights had been set to flash to simulate a two-way stop.

After trying it this way for 90 days we have seen no accidents and received no complaints, so staff is recommending council proceed with an ordinance change to remove the fixtures.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas 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, January 16, 2017

What you may not know: Week of January 16

The Appleton Common Council has a regularly-scheduled council meeting this Wednesday at 7 pm. Due to last week's inclement weather on Tuesday, however, we have a bit of business to take care of first:

Finance Committee, Wednesday, 6 pm

The Finance Committee had to cancel our regularly scheduled meeting last week and will instead meet before council this week to take up an item I mentioned in last week's update: A proposed agreement to purchase four fire trucks over the next four years from Pierce Manufacturing in a package deal. The Safety & Licensing Committee recommended this item for approval on a 4-0 vote at our meeting on Wednesday.

One of the challenges in entering into a long-term agreement like this as a city is our budgeting process: Our budgets are set annually and council cannot "bind" future councils to make a decision a certain way in years ahead. As such, council cannot actually commit to purchase trucks beyond the current budget year, discount or no discount, as the decision to actually pay for them rests in the hands of (potentially) future holders of our offices. At Safety & Licensing the agreement was clarified a bit: While this is a tentative agreement to purchase four vehicles at an established price, the city does have the ability to back out of the deal without penalty if the council should decide at any point that we cannot or do not wish to make that year's purchase.

Assuming the committee meets as scheduled and makes a recommendation on this item, it will go before the full council later in the evening.

Fair Street Update

Another item on the council agenda for Wednesday night is Alderman Siebers' resolution calling for rezoning of seven properties at the south end of Fair Street, where it dead ends between Franklin Street and College Avenue. His resolution was recommended for denial by a 6-0 vote at the City Plan Commission last week.

The heart of this dispute is a question about how these properties should have been assessed for recent utility work. The properties in question are single-family homes but several of them are on property zoned Central Business District (CBD), and properties carrying that zoning pay a larger portion of the cost for utility reconstruction. Regardless of how council decides to handle the recommendation regarding this resolution, we'll still have to take a second action at a later date in regards to their request to make an exception to the Special Assessment Policy. That request is scheduled to go before the Finance Committee next week.

This step remains important, though, as an indication that the properties are correctly zoned and were not overcharged in error. With that piece of information in hand, we can proceed with the latter request with more knowledge to work from.

Meanwhile, here are a pair of updates on items I mentioned last week that do not appear on this week's council agenda and will not be acted upon:

  • Tuesday's cancellation of the Municipal Services Committee meeting meant the committee did not get a chance to make a recommendation on a proposed change to the city's parking ramp policies removing free parking during snow emergencies. The committee will hold a special meeting this week but this item is not on their agenda and will likely be discussed at their next regularly-scheduled meeting on January 24.
  • Additionally, time constraints (the meeting is at 7 am and many of the volunteer members need to leave by 8 am to get to work) and another contentious item meant the Board of Health did not have much time to discuss a resolution regarding urban chickens at their meeting last Wednesday. I'm becoming concerned with this process: The Board only meets once monthly and has received presentations and discussions at four meetings now but still has not taken action on this item and will likely only have an informational discussion at their next scheduled meeting on Wednesday, February 8. If they don't take action at their next meeting, this item will have been under their jurisdiction for six months.
Again, no action will be taken on the previous two items this week.

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.