November 11, 2011
APPLETON — During an eight-hour session Wednesday night that spilled into Thursday morning, the Appleton Common Council approved a pair of capital improvement projects that will transform the downtown district.
The council supported a $1.5 million renovation of Houdini Plaza by rejecting a plan 11-5 that would have delayed the project until 2013. A proposal to cut the renovation failed 13-3.
Council members also approved $3.4 million in capital improvement money for the proposed Fox Cities Exhibition Center, which would be adjacent to and run by the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel. An attempt to cut that funding from the budget was denied 14-2.
As overall spending falls slightly to $146 million next year, the tax levy will go up 1.64 percent to $37.6 million.
The council voted 9-7 on the budget resolution.
The budget freezes salaries and benefits for the city’s nonunion employees, whose ranks have swelled to roughly two-thirds of Appleton’s 622 employees because of collective bargaining changes at the state level.
Police, fire and Valley Transit workers can still bargain collectively for their compensation packages.
Under existing contracts, fire union salary and benefit costs will rise 1.7 percent, police union costs will go up 1.5 percent and Valley Transit union costs will drop 2.7 percent.
The council voted 10-6 on Wednesday to extend its health and dental coverage to registered same-sex domestic partners of union employees. Before the vote, the city’s controversial policy only applied to nonunion employees.
Additionally, the council voted 9-7 to eliminate the parks and recreation director’s position amid yearlong reforms that dramatically diminished the size and scope of the department. With that action, the council merged the parks and recreation department with the facilities, grounds and construction department.
The new department is called the parks, recreation and facilities department.
The council rebuffed proposals that would have eliminated one of two deputy police chief positions and reduced city funding for the diversity coordinator position.
With interest rates at historic lows, several council members argued the time is ripe to invest in the downtown district by renovating Houdini Plaza.
“Why not do it now?” asked Ald. Christoph Wahl. “I’m curious if anybody here thinks that debt will get any cheaper. I believe that this is a necessary investment in our downtown.”
Conceived as a public-private partnership, the city will cover 70 percent of the project’s cost up to $1 million.
Community Development Director Karen Harkness has pledged to deliver $500,000 in community donations. Octoberfest and Appleton Downtown Inc. have each signed on to contribute $100,000.
Ald. Michael Smith told the council not to “wait and see what happens next year” by delaying the project until 2013.
The debate grew more animated when the council took up the proposed $20 million convention center, which would be funded through a combination of capital improvement dollars, grants and hotel room tax-supported bonds.
“This is an exciting moment for Appleton,” Ald. Jeff Jirschele said.
Ald. John Robin Hill said he was “nervous” the project wouldn’t draw tourists as hoped or deliver a projected $8 million in new economic activity in the Fox Cities each year.
“How do we know people are going to come?” Hill asked.
Ald. Ed Baranowski conceded there are risks involved, but he stressed the concept had been thoroughly vetted and examined.
“We’ve done our research, we’ve done our homework,” he said. “We don’t succeed if we don’t take risks.”
Mayor Tim Hanna echoed that sentiment.
“If you don’t build it, they won’t come,” Hanna said.
To audible gasps and sighs from the 30-person audience, the council voted to extend health and dental coverage to registered same-sex domestic partners of all city employees, regardless of union status.
The vote followed two attempts by council members to eliminate or delay the city’s health coverage policy.
The council voted 11-5 against a plan by Baranowski, Ald. Chris Croatt and Ald. Greg Dannecker to cut health and dental coverage for registered same-sex domestic partners of nonunion employees.
The council adopted that policy Sept. 7 as part of a broader overhaul of the city’s benefits package for nonunion employees in the wake of a state law that eliminated collective bargaining powers for most public-sector workers.
Several council members argued the proposal by Ald. Teege Mettille to extend the benefits to fire, police and Valley Transit workers would bring union and nonunion employees to parity and level the playing field.
Parks and recreation: Council members seemed to agonize over the decision to merge the parks and recreation department with the facilities, grounds and construction department, eliminating the director of parks and recreation position in the process.
Croatt, who is the chair of the parks and recreation committee, stressed the move would save taxpayers money without diminishing service.
“This is not about removing a person from the job — this is about removing a position from the payroll,” Croatt said.
The parks and recreation department underwent a massive restructuring in the past year, as several duties and staff members were shuffled to other departments to reduce redundancies. The department shrank from 32.22 full-time equivalent positions in 2010 to 5.45 full-time equivalent positions this year.
The director’s position would have cost the city $127,896 next year in wages and benefits.
Under the merger, a superintendent of parks and recreation will assume those duties at a lower pay grade, saving the city nearly $30,000.
Smith warned the plan may not work as intended and Ald. Peter Stueck chided the proponents for presenting what he thought to be a skeletal plan.
“This is something a few of us decided to up and do,” Stueck said. “Just because we can do this doesn’t mean we should.”
Hanna also questioned whether the plan had been thoroughly considered and lauded the work Director Bill Lecker had done to maintain a relationship with community organizations.
“What’s your vision?” Hanna asked pointedly. “You just took the management out of this department … That liaison piece, those relationships are important. It’s something that deserves more discussion than tonight.”
Diversity coordinator: The council rejected a plan 10-6 that would have reduced city funding for its diversity coordinator position and shared half of the costs with other municipalities or organizations.
Baranowski’s proposal called for the position to be eliminated by April 27, 2012, if the city were unable to secure additional funding to help support the diversity coordinator’s efforts outside city limits.
The move would have saved the city about $32,000.
Clemons supported the idea and said it was “never my intention to eliminate the position.”
“I want this position to stay,” Clemons said. “(But) I want all those (who) benefit to help pay for it.”
Council President Cathy Spears argued that Appleton needed to keep the full-time position at city hall.
“I don’t want to share this position with anybody else,” she said. “I want this position to be working for the citizens of Appleton.”
Though Jirschele agreed that Diversity Coordinator Kathy Flores’ efforts outside city limits had been “excessive,” he argued her work is important to Appleton’s future.
“This position has such potential for Appleton,” he said. “This is a growth process — let’s grow with it.”
Deputy police chief: Clemons withdrew a plan to cut one of the police department’s two deputy police chief positions. It would have saved the city about $140,692 in wages and benefits next year.
Clemons’ plan also would have barred Police Chief David Walsh from serving as the interim director of technology services, a position he has held since former Director Scott Liske retired in May.
2012 APPLETON BUDGET at a glance
2012: $146 million (less than 1 percent decrease)
2011: $147 million
2012: $37.6 million (1.64 percent increase)
2011: $37 million
2012: $8.16 per $1,000 of assessed value (1.4 percent
increase) in Outagamie County; $8.10 per $1,000 of assessed value (1.3 percent increase) in Calumet County; $8.06 per $1,000 of assessed value (2.4 percent decrease) in
2011: $8.05 per $1,000 of assessed value in Outagamie County; $8.00 per $1,000 of assessed value in Calumet
County; $8.25 per $1,000 of assessed value in Winnebago County
Homeowner cost ($150,000 property)*
Proposed 2012: $1,224 in Outagamie County; $1,215 in Calumet County; $1,209 in Winnebago County
2011: $1,207.50 in Outagamie County; $1,200 in Calumet County; $1,237.50 in Winnebago County
*Assumes no change in the assessed value of the property.
Note: The city of Appleton costs account for only part of a
homeowner’s annual tax bill. The assessed tax rates are estimates.