Monday, November 26, 2018

What you may not know: Week of November 26

The Appleton Common Council returns from our Thanksgiving holiday break this week with a full slate of committee meetings. Here are some of the items on our agendas:

Municipal Services Committee, Monday, 4:30 pm

Earlier this year the Department of Public Works initiated a six-month trial of new parking restrictions along Lutz Drive near the Appleton Yacht Club in an effort to resolve a safety issue on the adjacent multi-use trail. The common practice of Yacht Club users loading/unloading their vehicles on the south side of the street created an increased risk of pedestrians/cyclists on the trail getting hit with car doors on their way through.

The six-month trial in this area called for the creation of some "no parking" area along the south side of Lutz Drive adjacent to the trail to eliminate this unsafe interaction between trail users and vehicles. The Yacht Club continues to operate a small parking lot at their facility and users would continue to have access to parking on the north side of the street, along with access on the south side a little further down the street. Yacht Club users have expressed concerns with this arrangement.

The Municipal Services Committee initially recommended permanently enacting the changes made during the six-month trial, but the item was later referred back to committee for further discussion. The committee will be asked once again to make a recommendation on Monday and the item is expected back at council on December 5.

Utilities Committee, Tuesday, 5 pm

Preparations continue for Outagamie County to open a new landfill cell at their facility between Holland Road and French Road and south of Highway 41 in future years. The new cell will be at the northwest corner of the facility, near the French Road overpass over I-41. This week the Utilities Committee will be asked to make a recommendation on two staff requests regarding leachate, the associated water that has percolated through the landfill materials and leached out some of the chemicals within.

The city had previously agreed to accept leachate from the new landfill cell at the Wastewater Treatment Plant, which has the capacity necessary to accept this material for treatment. Outagamie County has since asked the city to also consider accepting leachate from the east and northeast cells at the facility, however, and doing so would cause the plant to exceed its design capacity for loading of ammonia.

The staff recommendation on this matter calls for the city to accept leachate from the landfill's northwest site but reject the requests regarding the east and northeast sites.

Community and Economic Development, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

On Wednesday the Community and Economic Development Committee will be asked to review allocation recommendations for the city's expected Community Development Block Grant funds for the 2019-20 program year. CDBG is a US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program providing funds intended to provide assistance and improve quality of life for low and moderate-income households in the community.

For the 2019-20 program year the city projects to receive around $560,000 in funding. A six-member panel with representatives from the Mayor's office, Common Council, Appleton Redevelopment Authority and City Plan Commission recently met to review requests for grants and arrived at the following recommendation:

  • City programs including the Homeowner Rehabilitation Loan Program, Neighborhood Services Program, Fair Housing Services, Appleton Housing Authority, Police Department and administrative costs will receive a combined $290,018.48.
  • Requests designated as "Public Service" are subject to a 15% cap per HUD regulations, so a request from Harbor House for $30,000 towards counselling/advocacy staff is slated to receive $10,000, a $20,000 request from LEAVEN for rental assistance is recommended to receive just under $10,000 and a request from Pillars, Inc. for support staffing was not funded.
  • Three projects designated as "Non-Public Service" were fully funded. Pillars, Inc is expected to receive $100,000 towards an affordable housing project, Rebuilding Together Fox Valley has $50,000 towards a home repair project for low-income homeowners and Iris Place Respite Center is expected to receive just under $50,000 towards a project to replace a boiler system.
  • A request from Habitat for Humanity for $88,500 to acquire three properties to rehabilitate and resell to low-to-moderate income homebuyers was not funded.
At the committee meeting this week I expect we'll learn more about why the Habitat request was not granted and the city's options for the nearly $50,000 in funds left unallocated as part of this recommendation.

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, November 13, 2018

Notes on Appleton's 2019 Budget

The Appleton Common Council will meet in special session on Wednesday night to make final amendments and adopt the city's 2019 budget.

This was a very difficult budget year: The state's limits on our revenue meant we had around $600,000 in new revenue available to put into the budget, and wage increases for our contracted employees (The Police and Fire Departments, Valley Transit) and our increased health insurance costs alone rose by about $670,000. So there simply isn't money available this year for new programs or any notable expansions to current programs funded from our operating budget. We're also having to borrow a bit more money to pay for road projects that would previously have been paid for in cash.

Here are quick notes and explanations on a few of the discussions I've been involved in during the budget process:

Police Equipment/Personnel

The lack of extra available funds exacerbated an already difficult situation with the Police Department, where a collection of necessary personal protective equipment had already fallen behind its replacement schedule. The ramifications of this issue became very apparent recently when our SWAT team was unable to use their gas masks during an incident.

On Budget Saturday I worked with Alderperson Kathleen Plank to partially address this issue by removing part of the PD's scheduled contribution to our Central Equipment Agency to help fund the purchase of new gas masks. There are still equipment needs at the department, however, and I anticipate multiple amendments this week in an effort to get that problem addressed.

Additionally, it's my understanding that Alderperson Patti Coenen has made an effort to cut from several budgets in an effort to fund a new police officer starting in March. This amendment came about relatively late in the process and I'll be curious to learn more about it during debate.

Wheel Tax

As I noted above, the city is borrowing significantly more money than usual this year to stay on top of our street reconstruction projects. On Budget Saturday I raised the possibility of increasing the Wheel Tax by $5 to help reduce that borrowing.

I know the Wheel Tax isn't universally popular, but in this case raising it would actually save taxpayers money in the long run: Generating about $340,000 in new revenue would allow us to pay cash for some of our smaller street projects instead of borrowing. Vehicle owners would have to pay an extra $5 in the short term but would avoid having to pay that money back with interest as part of their property taxes over the next decade. To compare this to one's personal finances: Paying cash is almost always cheaper in the long run than putting a purchase on your credit card.

At any rate, the proposal was not well received at committee and failed on a 3-1 vote. I don't intend to bring it up for debate again on Wednesday night.

Polygraph Testing

On Budget Saturday I asked the Finance Committee to consider an amendment that would remove $2500 in funding used for polygraph testing as part of the police hiring process.

Polygraph, or "lie detector" testing, has largely fallen out of favor due to questions about its accuracy. It's been illegal for private companies to use it in their hiring processes for around 30 years now. A recent Wired Magazine article, however, notes that it's still pretty common practice for public safety employees. Popular Science also wrote about this in September.

In a year where we have a litany of unmet budget needs, cutting off our reliance on pseudoscience seems like a good opportunity to find some fiscal flexibility. My amendment failed 2-2 at committee but I intend to ask the full council to overturn their recommendation.

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, August 5, 2018

What you may not know: Week of August 6

The Appleton Common Council is back to work on a normal committee week this week, although most of the notable meetings will take place on Monday.

Before I get started, please note that all of these committee meeting times are subject to change if the preceding meeting goes long. Meetings will not start before the listed time, but may be pushed back if the previous meeting continues for over an hour. Given the topics at hand, it's a strong possibility that staying on schedule will be a challenge this week.

Municipal Services Committee, Monday, 4:30 pm

In last week's update I mentioned a resolution introduced by Alderman Bill Siebers calling for the city to change the fine for parking in the street during times where parking is banned due to a snow emergency. That item was on our council agenda last week but was referred back to the Municipal Services Committee and appears on their agenda once again.

This committee has previously opted to recommend addressing this issue by raising the fine from $25 to $100 per offense. As I noted last week, that increase would establish our fine for this offense as the highest among comparable municipalities.

The more I've thought about this issue the more I've come to see it as an enforcement issue, not a punishment issue. I have yet to see any compelling evidence that raising the fine will improve compliance, and would support efforts to try to find another way to solve this issue.

Finance Committee, Monday, 5:30 pm

This week the Finance Committee will be asked to make another recommendation on a step forward in efforts to build a new Appleton Public Library as part of a mixed use development on the site of the Soldiers Square parking ramp downtown.

In April of this year the city council and library board voted to support the city's efforts to include the library's needs as identified in a mixed use development with Commercial Horizons. The 2018 city budget allocated $500,000 in funding for the library project, and this week the Finance Committee will be asked to recommend awarding $347,000 of that allocation to Commercial Horizons for the following project elements:

  • Site development and building coordination for the new library.
  • Programming and public outreach for the new library.
  • Library schematic design.
  • Site development for a temporary parking solution following the demolition of the Soldiers Square ramp.
  • Topographic and schematic parking lot layouts for temporary parking.
Some of this is a continuation of work already taking place. There is an Open House with the OPN Architects scheduled for Tuesday, August 14 from 6-7:30 pm for interested parties to drop by and share their opinion. Anyone interested in being part of a focus group with the architects can also sign up at apl.org/focusgroups

In the meantime, continuing the process with Commercial Horizons will hopefully give us more information to consider in our 2019 budget discussions.

Committee of the Whole, Monday, 6:30 pm

Again, in last week's update I noted that our August 1 council meeting included an agenda item calling for us to act on a proposed amendment to the U.S. Venture Development Agreement. Last week council met for about an hour and a half in closed session to discuss negotiations related to the amendment, then later opted to refer the item back to its committees of jurisdiction for further discussion. The amendment had been sent directly to council previously, so this will be the first committee meeting to discuss this action item. Because the item is technically within the jurisdiction of the Finance, Municipal Services and Community and Economic Development committees, council will come together as a Committee of the Whole to take it up.

Our previous conversations on this topic have been in closed session, so I'm reluctant to discuss any of the finer points of the negotiation at this juncture. Suffice it to say that I expect a spirited discussion on the proposed amendment on Monday night. I'll also note once again that while this project does require a significant investment, it has been and continues to be the city's priority to keep the expenses contained within the appropriate Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district to prevent the taxpayers from bearing any of the burden. The costs are being borrowed by the TIF district and are expected to be repaid by increased revenue due to the related increase in property values.

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, July 31, 2018

What you may not know: Week of July 30

The Appleton Common Council will hold its regularly scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday, August 1. Items on the agenda include the following:

Snow Emergency Parking

Several months ago Alderman Bill Siebers submitted a resolution in response to an issue he has witnessed in the city's first district, where cars parked on the street during snow emergencies have to be plowed around and create issues for both the usability of the street and available on-street parking in front of businesses. The current fine for parking on the street while on-street parking is banned is $25, the same as a ticket for being parked on the street without authorization overnight on any other night.

Last week the Municipal Services Committee amended Alderman Siebers' resolution and recommended the city establish a fine of $100 for leaving a vehicle on the street during a snow emergency. This would put us at the high end of a list of comparable municipalities reviewed at the meeting.

While I appreciate the issue Alderman Siebers is trying to address, I would be more inclined to support a lesser increase that puts us in line with our neighbors instead of above most of them.

Refuse Cart Fees

As I noted in my last update, the Municipal Services committee was recently asked to consider a staff recommendation that would make a slight increase to the city's refuse cart fees to address a growing shortfall in the Sanitation Fund's revenues. The Sanitation Fund has been operating at a slight deficit in recent years and in 2019 it's fund balance is expected to fall below 25% of its operating budget, a benchmark that typically triggers some kind of adjustment. Under the current fee structure the fund balance would be completely depleted by 2022.

The staff proposal called for an across the board increase of fees as follows:

  • Users with 30 gallon refuse carts would pay $.50 per week, up from $0.
  • Users with 60 gallon refuse carts would pay $1 per week, up from $.50.
  • Users with 90 gallon refuse carts would pay $1.50 per week, up from $1.30.
  • Users with multiple carts would see their rates increase along a range from $1.20 to $1.70 per week.
The Municipal Services Committee opted to amend that recommendation to leave the smallest cart free, but recommended adopting all of the remaining changes. If approved, this change is projected to keep the Sanitation Fund on solid financial footing through 2022.

Parking Rate Increases

Last week the Municipal Services Committee also voted to recommend approval of the following rate increases for the city's parking utility:
  • Parking meters north of Washington Street would be increased from $.20/hour to $.25/hour.
  • All other parking meters would be increased from $.75/hour to $1/hour.
  • Parking ramp fees of $1 for less than two hours would be eliminated and replaced by a $2 fee for parking less than three hours.
These three changes are projected to raise about $150,000 in annual revenue to be used to help pay for updated ramp lighting, elevator and parking meter replacements as well as credit card fees and software support.

U.S. Venture Agreement

The city and U.S. Venture continue to work together on the development of a new headquarters for U.S. Venture downtown, but plans hit a snag recently when private developers were unable to secure financing for the parking element of the project. 

This week the Common Council will be asked to approve an amended agreement to keep the project moving forward. The amended agreement calls for the city to take responsibility for the construction of the parking structure in exchange for guarantees from US Venture to purchase more spaces within the new structure and an increase in their guaranteed minimum value of the property upon completion of the project.

It's worth noting once again that while this project does require a significant investment, it has been and continues to be the city's priority to keep the expenses contained within the appropriate Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district to prevent the taxpayers from bearing any of the burden. The costs are being borrowed by the TIF district and are expected to be repaid by increased revenue due to the related increase in property values.

In an effort to keep this project moving council will be asked to take this item up on Wednesday despite the fact that it has not been to any committees. As such, I expect extended discussion and questions before we take action, if we choose to take action this week at all.

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 9, 2018

What you may not know: Week of July 9

The Appleton Common Council is back from our Fourth of July break and we've got a busy committee week ahead. Most of the notable meetings this week all occur on Monday:

Central Equipment Agency Review Committee, Monday, 4 pm

The 2019 budget process is well underway for city departments, with first drafts of budget requests and capital project requests due to the Mayor's office today. This afternoon the Central Equipment Agency's Review Committee will meet with an agenda including many of those requests as part of the budget process.

The CEA is the arm of the city that owns and maintains most of the city's vehicles used across all departments. The departments get their vehicles through the CEA, which collects funds from the departments for their maintenance and estimated eventual replacement costs. The committee that oversees this process is made up of two alderpersons (Alderman Chris Croatt and I) and two department heads (Finance Director Tony Saucerman and Department of Public Works Director Paula Vandehey).

Today that committee is expected to make a recommendation on vehicle purchases requested as part of the 2019 budget. That list includes over $3.3 million in acquisitions, including a new fire truck at an estimated $676,000, 18 new vehicles for the Police Department and five new pieces of equipment with a value of over $200,000 each for the Street Department. Additionally, the 2019 plan calls for over $2.5 million in equipment due for replacement to be retained for another year.

Because of the way the CEA is budgeted, the vast majority of these expenses will have no impact on property taxes: The departments have paid into CEA annually over the years to establish a fund to use to finance the replacement of their vehicles and equipment.

Municipal Services Committee, Monday, 4:30 pm

The Municipal Services Committee has a packed agenda for Monday with a presentation, several street design hearings, two scheduled votes on final street designs and proposed fee changes for refuse carts and parking.

Starting in January of 2019 staff is asking council to approve our first sanitation service fee in four years: The cost difference will depend on the size of a resident's garbage can but will be between $.20 and $.50 per week for most households.

Memos attached to this week's agenda explain the change a bit: The amount of money Sanitation receives via property taxes has remained flat since 2015, and the fund balance for the Sanitation Fund's capital reserve will fall below 25% of annual expenses in 2019 unless some action is taken. Additionally, the city anticipates needing to spend $600,000 in the coming years to replace over 12,000 garbage cans that are over 25 years old.

Additionally, data attached to the agenda shows that, for most customers, Appleton's sanitation fees will remain below the rates charged by some of our neighbors (including Grand Chute and Little Chute) and we continue to conduct Bulk Item Collection much more frequently than any municipality in the area.

There are, as of this writing, fewer details available on possible parking rate increases for 2019. The item is included on the agenda for discussion but there are no attachments or memos on staff recommendations.

Finance Committee, Monday, 5:30 pm

At 5:30 pm or as soon as Municipal Services wraps up, the Finance Committee also has a very busy meeting planned. The headline from this meeting is likely to be the committee's recommendation to the full council related to Appleton's share of approving the Fox Cities Sports Facility Project, expected to be constructed in Grand Chute and financed using Room Tax dollars.

The council has had a good deal of time to review the documents on this issue: We received them well in advance of the holiday but have not had a chance to act on them yet due to the holiday gap in our meeting schedule (council did not meet on July 4, our regularly scheduled date). I know Grand Chute and the others involved are eager to get this project going, but I hope both those active in the project and those observing from outside will understand and appreciate our desire to do our due diligence on a project of this scope.

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 16, 2018

What you may not know: Week of April 16

Before I get to this week's council notes, I wanted to send out my heartfelt thanks to the city's Department of Public Works and Police and Fire Departments for their efforts to keep the city safe and to all of my constituents for their patience and understanding while we all work to dig out from this weekend's massive snow event. It's been a very challenging weekend and Monday for a lot of us and I appreciate the efforts of everyone who has worked to help others get through it.

Now, with that said, this is an important week for the Appleton Common Council. A new council year begins on Tuesday night with the swearing in and re-swearing in of members of the council that were elected and re-elected two weeks ago and the council's committee, board and commission assignments will be re-set on Wednesday. In addition to that, there are a couple other items of interest on agendas:

Mixed Use Library

The Appleton Common Council has already voted to continue negotiations with Commercial Horizons regarding including the library in a proposed mixed use development on the site of the Soldier's Square parking ramp. On Tuesday afternoon at 4:30 the Library Board will meet and their agenda includes the same action item.

It's worth noting once again that this is not a decision on a final design, funding model or budgetary commitment. An affirmative vote by the Library Board would simply be a continuation of the process in partnership with Commercial Horizons in an effort to meet the library's needs as part of development of this space. A development agreement and several other important votes on this project are yet to come.

Re-development on West College Avenue

Elsewhere in long-awaited projects, last week the City Plan Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of a Special Use Permit necessary for a proposed redevelopment of the long vacant former K-Mart site on West College Avenue. The Common Council is expected to vote on that recommendation on Wednesday night. Last week the city released renderings of a proposed plan for the site that calls for retail facing College Avenue and personal storage behind the building.

The former K-Mart site has been vacant for a variety of reasons for the entirety of my tenure on council and many years before that. I'm excited for this opportunity to see something new take shape on this long-blighted property.

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 2, 2018

What you may not know: Week of April 2

Before I get to the council update, please note that Election Day is Tuesday, April 2. Residents of the 13th district will have a State Supreme Court race and two referendums on their ballots, and most will also have a school board race. Residents of the 13th district vote at Celebration Ministry Center (aka Faith Lutheran) at 3100 E Evergreen Drive, and polls will be open from 7 am to 8 pm. Please plan ahead, as the weather for tomorrow looks a bit ominous.

The Appleton Common Council will also hold our regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday night, and one item on the agenda will likely overshadow most of the others:

Mixed Use Library

Last week in a joint meeting the Appleton Finance Committee and the Library Board's Building and Equipment Committee both voted unanimously to recommend continuing to work with Commercial Horizons on design and a development agreement for a mixed use facility anchored by a new library on the site of the existing Soldier's Square Parking Ramp.

The wording used above is important: Please note that the council action item is simply approval of continuing the process. This is not the approval of a final design, financing model or any of the other final steps that will need to be taken to start construction. If approved, this action item would allow city and library staff to continue to work with Commercial Horizons to develop a plan for the project ahead. This is a big step forward and I'm grateful to both the Finance and Building and Equipment committees for their approval, but much more work has to be done before this project can begin.

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.