Hello there, Neighbors! It’s Full Council Week here once again and there are a couple of additional meetings besides the meeting of the full council on the calendar for the week as well. Below is your summary of what to expect and, at the end of this post, a short recap of the final 2024 budget adoption and why your alderman voted “no” on next year’s budget.
Library Board – 4:30pm Board members will review and look to approve the bill register for October 2023, some small budget amendments for November 2023, the library director’s performance review summary, updated sub-committee assignments, and the full board’s upcoming meeting schedule. Also of interest is the item pertaining to proposed upcoming closure dates for the library. Please see below:
There will also be some further discussion on the second temporary library move and its effects on the children’s programming and circulation/hold management.
Human Resources and Information Technology Committee – Special Meeting – 6:30pm This special meeting was called to talk through a couple of action items which were not ready for discussion or approval last week (and would not have been able to be discussed last week due to the “off week” common council meeting for budget adoption) but will require discussion and potential approval by the full council at the meeting to follow. The first item is a request for an overhire (more than one employee taking on the tasks of one position at the same time to aid in the transition to/training of a new employee) for the position of Executive Assistant (EA) to the Police Chief. The current EA has held this position for over 30 years so there are undoubtedly volumes of knowledge for her to share with a new employee in this position so that the Police Department continues to function at its highest level. The cost of this overhire is estimated at ~$3,000 which will be covered by salary savings from another vacant position in the department. Do you have any strong feelings in this regard? Please let me know.
The second item on this special meeting agenda is the approval of the new two-year (2024-2026) agreement between the city and the Appleton Professional Police Association union. The changes to the union agreement look to be fair and will likely garner little or no question or criticism. But I will be interested to hear if any questions or concerns come up at this committee meeting.
City of Appleton Common Council – 7pm After *most of* the council members stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, after the roll call of members and approval of the last council meeting minutes take place, we will move directly to a couple of public hearings. Both hearings refer to the rezoning and comprehensive plan map changes for some of the St Therese Congregation lands on the south side of Wisconsin Avenue. (These requested changes were briefly discussed here.) After these public hearings (likely to be simply a formality with little or no public opposition), the council will take up those items discussed at committee meetings last week and just before this meeting as noted above. Here are the highlights:
- From the Parks and Recreation Committee: Council will discuss and look to approve rate changes for the 2024 season at Reid Golf Course. There were no amendments made to the rate schedule that was proposed by golf course staff at the committee meeting. Take a look at the proposed 2024 rates and let me know if you have any questions or concerns in this regard.
- From the Finance Committee: Your alderman voted in favor of the two items discussed at last week’s Finance Committee meeting — a steep-but-grant-supported purchase of furniture and fixtures for the Health Department and a request to accept a grant to help with a water utility project already in the works. But please let me know if you have any questions or concerns in this regard so that they can be brought forward before the full council approves them.
- From the Utilities Committee: This committee voted to recommend that the City of Appleton opt out of the current class action lawsuits with 3M and Dupont regarding water-borne PFAS (as recommended by the City Attorney and the city’s Utilities Director and Risk Manager). As I mentioned last week, there is not currently an issue with PFAS in the City of Appleton water supply. So it is not critical that the city join this is class action suit. By opting out at this time, the city would be preserving the right to later sue these companies for larger amounts than the class action settlement offerings in case a PFAS issue does become a serious issue in the city. Do you agree that the city should opt out? If not, why not? I’d be interested to learn more if you have some expertise in this area of concern. So please let me know.
- Due to a procedural issue — the last time it was discussed and voted on, the measure was deemed “passed” without the proper 3/4 vote of the council — the issue of alderman salaries will again be discussed and voted upon by the full council. An excellent recap of the first discussion in this regard can be found here.It is my belief — and likely your belief as well — that this is an elected position of service, not meant to be a job for which there should be a “living wage.” I feel it inappropriate to substantially increase future aldermanic pay (and especially without a commensurate reduction of the other “perks” of aldermanic service like the parking stipend amendment did). The “approved” $500/year increase would equate to a 7.4% increase between what aldermen are currently paid versus what, should this increase pass, would be paid to aldermen elected and seated in April 2025. That type of increase (especially without the removal of other non-salary perks budgeted for aldermen) is uncalled for and untenable. I voted against this additional increase but the majority (though still not 3/4 majority) voted for it.What are your thoughts on all of this? I know that I do not serve my neighbors for the pay. Were I sitting on my couch contemplating whether to run for District 13 alderman today, the position’s salary would compel me to run nor would it keep me from running for the office. (I didn’t even know what aldermen in the city were paid when I first ran for this position!) I can accept incremental small increases of pay for any position. In the 2024 budget, the employees of the city will receive 3% pay increases. So how, in comparison, could a 7.4% increase for aldermen who are elected to serve — not in a “full-time” capacity! — be acceptable? I believe a parking stipend added to alderman pay with a corresponding substantial reduction in another line item of the council budget (the parking passes) is a great compromise in the long-running discussion of this council about compensation. I’d love to hear from you on this, though.
I do not look forward to another long discussion with the other members of the council on this subject. The fact of the matter is that there are a great many progressive members of the currently seated council who would like to see a dramatic increase in aldermen pay. I believe that like me, many of you are opposed to a dramatic pay increase for aldermen as this is and should continue to be a position of service to the community with nominal pay. But let me know what you think.
And that will wrap up this week’s meetings. If you have any question or concerns about any of the above items, please reach out and let me know.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, I do want to share with you why I voted “no” on the final approval of the mayor’s proposed 2024 budget. There are many good and acceptable pieces of the 2024 budget that the mayor proposed. At the end of the day, after all discussions and concerns that were presented regarding some of the items included in the budget, the entire thing was approved “as is” — just as the mayor presented it, without major amendment or separating of items from the budget process for further discussion in the public forum — by a majority of the common council.
As I detailed here, I have great concern about the movement of 94% of the Forestry Division from the general fund portion of the budget to the stormwater utility fund. And this concern is not because I don’t see the value of this move. I do see that urban forestry is a service which could be argued as a part of the city’s overall stormwater management system and might, therefore, be best funded through the stormwater utility. My concerns are otherwise — namely about how this move essentially equates to property taxpayers still paying the ~$1.65M that would have supported the Forestry Division and stormwater utility rate payers footing that same bill in 2024. This forestry move should have resulted in the relief of the burden of ~$1.65M for property taxpayers. But this budget does not refund that amount to property taxpayers and instead still collects that amount and applies it to other general fund expenses. There should have been cuts in the general fund budget instead of this “bait and switch.”
The city will also receive the new supplemental shared revenue funds from the State of Wisconsin in 2024 and those added dollars were also included (somewhere) in this mayor’s budget. (I say “somewhere” because a few aldermen on the council, including me, asked the mayor for a full detail of how these funds were accounted for in his proposed budget and these details were never received but for a few words from the mayor regarding the supplemental shared revenue funds in a short note that introduced the budget.) How could expenses in this budget have been so high that even these funds could not have helped to reduce the local property taxpayer burden?
The fact that the major forestry move — which will affect future city budgets and all future taxpayer and stormwater rate payers — was not separately discussed and voted upon before the budget process (even perhaps requiring a referendum on the subject as it affects nearly every Appleton citizen as a property taxpayer and/or ratepayer in the city) is disconcerting. The way that this kind of major change is approved in one feel swoop with a majority “yes” vote on the entire budget package makes me very uncomfortable with how well (or how poorly) this mayor and this council are educating and serving the general public in the City of Appleton. My “no” vote, therefore, registers that I do not accept this one fell swoop approach to major policy change in our city.
I’d be happy to hear from you regarding your thoughts on this. Do you agree that this issue could have and should have been approached differently with the voting public? Would you have liked to have seen this play out differently? What other thoughts and concerns do you have with the 2024 budget now that it’s been approved?
I look forward to continuing to share the upcoming issues on the table in our local government and to answering any questions or concerns you might have. Thank you for tuning in this week — and every other time you’ve done so! — to read the latest. Thanks, too, for all of the feedback I’ve gotten and continue to receive on these and all other things local government related.
Have a great mid-November week! I’ll see you back here next Sunday!