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.