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HomeCity of AppletonAppleton City Council Update: June 17, 2024

Appleton City Council Update: June 17, 2024

Hello, Neighbors! Thank you for allowing me a bit of leeway with this week’s alderman blog post. (As if you had a choice, right…?) I hope that your Father’s Day weekend was a nice one.

We have just begun a Full Council Meeting Week so of course there will be an update below on the items most likely to garner discussion at this Wednesday’s meeting. But there are also a few other meetings scheduled this week. Here is the schedule:

Monday, 06/17/2024 (Oooh! That’s today!)

Board of Zoning Appeals – 7pm One of my all-time favorite boards is back in session today with four requests for two properties — two requests each. A property owner on Leminwah who was not present to plead on behalf of her variance request on the last agenda for this board will (we hope) be present today to argue for that variance and… apparently a “Plan B” option if the first does not get approved. Her first request (held at the last board meeting) is for a garage to be constructed three feet from a property line where six feet is required. Her “Plan B” option is a request for a variance for a garage 4.5 feet from the side lot line (if this property owner can negotiate a purchase of a sliver of her neighbor’s lot to accommodate this change). The argument this owner uses remains the same — that this new bigger garage will “save lives” due to her being able to get to patients faster. However… she already has a code-compliant garage that she could refurbish or rebuild. So… I doubt that either variance request will be granted as there is nothing unique about the property itself which would require a variance.

The other two variance requests are for a property on Linwood Drive. The property is technically a non-conforming corner lot (bordering Linwood and Badger) with limited options for garage placement. The variances requested are for an accessory building in the “front yard” (which is not at all allowed by municipal code) and a five-foot setback (where code requires 20 feet). Staff is recommending that these be denied because the owner currently has a code-conforming optional configuration available for this lot so no variance should be required. I’ll be interested in what this one leads to as this board has been known to try to assist homeowners with options that still require variances but are not as complex or obtrusive as what the owners originally propose.

Tuesday, 06/18/2024

Historic Preservation Commission – 3pm A notice on the city’s calendar listing of meetings says “This meeting has been cancelled due to lack of quorum.” However, it’s interesting to note that on the agenda for this meeting — whenever this commission does assemble — is a request to approve the nomination of The 222 Building (which was recently purchased and planned for a renovation for the “new” headquarters of US Venture… with the help of city TIF funding) for the National Register of Historic Places. I’m sure that approval of this would mean that US Venture would be eligible for even more taxpayer assistance through tax cuts/credits/breaks from the state and federal government to remodel the building. So… we shall see how quickly this commission meets and approves this nomination.

Library Board – 4:30pmAfter a public hearing regarding the reappointment of three board members, there will be the review and potential approval of the following:

  • The May 2024 bill registry and financial statements and a small budget amendment,
  • A request for a “brand identity refresh” to the tune of $18,000. (To me, this seems excessive. What does a library truly need for branding? Isn’t an entirely remodeled building enough of a “refresh”? The city was able to rebrand using internal personnel to create a refreshed logo and a new color scheme, etc. So… why does the library need to spend almost $20-grand to do this? What are your thoughts?)
  • A request to approve billing Winnebago County for those county residents who reside in communities without an established library and use the Appleton Public Library. (While I’m all for libraries seeking compensation for usage by those non-city residents, I wonder why this has not occurred to this point? The memo attached to this request states that there is an estimated amount of over $100,000 to be made by the Appleton Public Library (APL) through this billing in 2025. So… how much has the APL been missing out on up to this point?? Ultimately, though, while this will result in more income for APL, it will come at the expense of taxpayers in Winnebago County. The memo also states that the same inter-governmental billing will eventually be done with Outagamie County and, I suspect, Calumet County as well.)
  • A request to approve a contract for a self-checkout system at the library for an amount not to exceed $50,000. Oy… there are some serious expenses in this library’s budget, aren’t there?

The May 2024 library building project update states that the fundraising project for the library remains at $11.1M of the required $12M. I’m wondering how and when we will see the balance — a needed ~$900,000 of private funding — come through. I would assume that it needs to be collected before the likely grand opening of the building which is “on track” for early 2025 or else the city’s budget is going to have to take care of the balance. Your alderman is decidedly not on board with the taxpayers of this city footing that bill should it come to that. How do you feel about this?

Wednesday, 06/19/2024

City of Appleton Common Council – 7pm As we all know, the mayor gets the ball rolling in these full council meetings. He will make a Refugee Day proclamation, recognize AZCO for their support of the yellow ramp skywalk improvements, hand it over to the Appleton Police Department for a victim services officer/K9 unit overview, and then ask the council to confirm a couple of citizen appointments to committees. There will be one public hearing regarding a rezoning of property on Lawrence Street (as discussed by the City Plan Commission in May and mentioned briefly here). Then the council will take up everything else that most recently came through committee discussions. Here are the highlights:

  • From the Municipal Services Committee: A potential approval for the city to discontinue negotiations with Bird for a scooter program in the city for the 2024 season. As was mentioned in last week’s post, this doesn’t mean that scooters-for-rent are gone forever from the city. It just means that we will, upon full council approval of this item, have a year’s reprieve from the issues that this service has caused in the city the last few years.
  • From the Parks and Recreation Committee: An amended version of the resolution regarding pesticide use in the city is on the table for approval. See here for earlier mention of this resolution. This committee and the Municipal Services Committee both discussed this resolution last week. The Municipal Services Committee held the item; but the Parks and Recreation Committee amended the resolution to remove language that was, in my opinion, questionable. Instead the resolution is now one which will give the council and citizens of Appleton a bit more clarity as far as what pesticides are used by the city in upkeep of city properties. The amended version removes all of the original Therefore Be It Resolved clauses and substitutes this language instead: “Parks & Recreation Department will gather information regarding the types of turf management chemical pesticides purchased moving forward, how they were used, and report back to committee at the end of the summer.” I believe that this amended version is perfectly acceptable and will be a good starting point on potential further discussions regarding what kinds of chemicals the city uses and whether or not their use can and should safely continue. Without this information, we are just spitting into the wind, not knowing what is really being done or how and which current practices might need changing. Do you have strong opinions in this regard? Please let me know!
  • From the Human Resources and Information Technology Committee: This committee voted to approve the addition of a new position in the Health Department for management of the city’s inventory of short-term rentals (Airbnb’s, for example, also called tourist rooming houses). Now this is up for full council approval. As I mentioned last week, I am glad to see that this position is self-sustaining (not requiring more city budget dollars to fund) but I am most looking forward to this position being one of an envoy between owners of short-term rentals and the neighbors surrounding those properties should those properties become neighborhood nuisances. I was assured that this will be a part of the duties of the employee hired for this position. So… once that person is hired, I expect to keep in touch with him/her regarding at least one troublesome short-term rental in District 13!
  • Also from the Human Resources and Information Technology Committee: An added police officer in the Traffic Safety division is up for full council approval as well. There is a bit of a budget hit for this new position (a maximum of ~$22,000 additional will be needed, depending on the health insurance required for the employee hired to this position). But I believe that our neighborhoods will see traffic safety improvements with this added position. Here is a recent traffic report on the streets with most safety issues. There are some real trouble spots in District 13 — like excess speeds on Providence Avenue between Ashbury and Glory, all streets surrounding Appleton North during school start and release times, and on Glenhurst Lane. This added traffic safety officer can only help to curb some of the reckless driving and speeding in areas like these throughout the city.
  • And from the Finance Committee (from long, long ago): The full council will finally be taking up the resolution for a 50% increase in the Wheel Tax. The last time the full council met, one of the co-authors of the resolution was not present. So the item was held until this full council meeting. I’ve written about this here and here. Here we are as a city unable to keep up with street reconstruction because the city budget doesn’t accommodate enough road reconstruction projects. And a couple of the aldermen in this city simply wish to push that expense off on you, vehicle owners in the city. This proposed Wheel Tax increase would not even really touch the amounts needed to get roads reconstructed at an acceptable rate in the city. I intend to vote against this increase and argue (vehemently) in favor of better budget management and other outside-the-box ideas that will help the city better reconstruct roads.It’s important to note that a denial of this resolution will not return the city to a policy of special assessments for road reconstruction projects and that the Wheel Tax dollars only apply to road reconstruction, not new construction of roads (which are paid for through special assessments).

    Some argue that the Wheel Tax has not “kept up with inflation.” I find it insulting that government policies create inflationary issues (e.g. – printing billions of dollars for the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)) and then this local government says it needs more money to “keep up with inflation.” No one can argue that the Wheel Tax is a less-than-ideal regressive tax system that has only partially dealt with the city’s problem with too-slow road reconstruction since its inception. It is not and cannot be administered fairly due to state laws disallowing certain vehicles from being assessed a Wheel Tax.

    There is no appetite in the council for a return to special assessments on property owners for road reconstruction projects so the city will have to make do with the Wheel Tax as it is. But that’s not a reason to raise that tax. It is my opinion that it is the duty of the common council to make the mayor’s budget find the additional dollars needed to help keep up with road reconstruction (you know, what is called “infrastructure”) in the city instead of asking more from you through a substandard system called the Wheel Tax. What do you think? Share your thoughts on this through an all-alderman email as well!

During the Municipal Services Committee meeting last week, the resolution to rescind No Mow May was held due to time constraints. (In other words… the meeting ran long so the committee decided to hold the discussions until the next committee meeting.) So expect to hear about that one again in next week’s blog post.

I will wrap up this week’s post with a thank you to all of you for your patience in awaiting this post. I always appreciate the feedback I receive from all of you who read this blog and send me your thoughts on the issues and how you think the city should best deal with them. I look forward to hearing from you should you need my help with anything city-government-related.

Have a great rest of this week!

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