Thoughts on my experiences as an alderperson for District 2 of the City of Evansville, Wisconsin. As of 22 February 2006, this blog will not accept comments from other Evansville alders, as such comments might possibly be construed by some as violations of Wisconsin's Open Meetings law. All comments are moderated; if you expect yours to be posted, please keep your potty-mouth to yourself and negativity to a minimum.

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Location: Evansville, Wisconsin

After appointment to the vacant 2nd District seat on Evansville's City Council in November 2005, I was elected without opposition in April 2006 to a full two-year term. I currently chair the Park & Recreation Board and, in addition, am a member of three Council committees: Public Works, Economic Development, and Finance & Labor Relations. I am an alternate to the Fire District Board.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Election Coming

Now is the time for all citizens who would like to see changes in the way city government operates to volunteer to put themselves in a position to participate in making decisions regarding those operations. In other words, there's a city election coming up next April.

You can run for alderperson in your district. Four seats, one in each district, are available. Go to City Hall and ask the clerk for nomination papers, which must be returned by January 2, 2007. The terms of Tom Cothard, Dennis Wessels, Bill Hammann, and Diane Roberts expire in April. I have no idea whether any of the four will run for another 2-year term. But you can run, no matter what.

Of course, being an alderman isn't the only way to make a positive contribution to Evansville, and many citizens are serving on commissions, boards, committees, etc. Final decision-making authority rests with the City Council, though. Get yourself elected, and join the fun.

Monday, November 13, 2006

I'm Back

A few days ago, I got a private email from a constituent asking me if I'd "dropped off the map". Well, yeah, I have, at least as far as this blog is concerned. It got to the point where doing my job as an alderman was taking so much time I didn't take time to report on it here. Perhaps I should have worked harder at it, but I didn't, and for those of you who missed my commentary, I'm sorry. I was really surprised to note that my last post was almost two months ago.

Here's what's been on my plate recently, in addition to "regular" alderman business:

a. working to get a group of interested citizens together to develop a program for putting the skate-park on the right path for 2007.
b. redesigning the city's website to make it easier for citizens to use; after the redesign is well in hand, we'll get it up-to-date in all aspects, and keep it up to date.
c. learning about the city's contracts with cell-phone and cable companies, in hopes of possibly improving the city's revenue stream from them, thus saving taxpayers money.
d. writing, together with other members of the board, the new 5-year plan for the Park and Recreation Board.
e. participating in extra Council meetings to complete the process of hiring a new City Administrator. (Hopefully, that's done now.) And other special council meetings relative to the new TIF districts, etc. Six special council meetings in the last six weeks!
f. spending two very valuable days attending presentations at a League of Wisconsin Municipalities conference; I got a number of new ideas which I'll be working on implementing, as it seems feasible for Evansville; one is related to c. above.

So I'm still here. What's above is still mostly work in progress, and some won't be completed for several months, or possibly longer. I hope the products of this work will benefit the city over the long haul. I'll make more of an effort to make timely reports on the blog as I see fit.

I'm always available to answer questions from residents. If you want to know something, send me a signed email, and I'll respond as soon as possible.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Economic Developments

An increased spirit of cooperation between the City's Economic Development Committee and the Evansville Chamber of Commerce was evident at last night's regular meeting of EDC. John Morning and Becky Heimerl of CofC and EDC members talked of finding a way to create and fund a position tentatively to be known as Evanville Economic Development Coordinator.

James Otterstein, Rock County's Economic Development Manager, also attended the meeting and described how some other small municipalities in Rock County, particularly Milton and Clinton, are managing their economic development efforts.

In my view, in the past Evansville has not made a coordinated, sustained effort to develop and follow an economic development strategy, which could possibly consist of several components: (the following bullet points are copied from another source, are not my original ideas)
• Attract new basic employers (manufacturing, non-manufacturing, and non-local government offices). Efforts in this area tend to include the creation of promotional literature and web-based information, attending trade shows, participating in State promotional efforts and building infrastructure for new employers.
• Improve the efficiency of existing firms (the retention and expansion of existing firms). Strategies might include: Assisting with the procurement of job training funds, sponsoring business seminars, encouraging collaborations and industry clusters.
• Improve the ability to capture dollars. Strategies in this area would focus on retaining retirement income in the community, increasing the amount of purchases made locally, providing more services locally, etc.
• Encourage the formation of new businesses (Encouraging and assisting entrepreneurs to form businesses, which respond to the changing needs of the community. The formation of investment capital, revolving loan funds, creation of incubators, building shell spec buildings, and providing management assistance might assist these efforts)
• Increase aids received from broader government (A significant portion of a community’s income is composed of payments from things like the University, vocational schools, state & federal government, social security, veterans benefits, agricultural land conservation assistance, military contracts and installations, and aids for such things like schools, parks, streets, etc.). Grant writing and sponsoring federal procurement seminars might be approaches in this area.

John Morning passed around some email that related to an inquiry from a business that expressed interest in locating a new factory in the midwest near a casting facility (Baker Mfg has that capability.) The inquiry bounced around town a bit, but by the time someone called to respond to the inquiry, the business had found a home in Minnesota. The city has not really had a "go-to" person, who follows up on queries from business people interested in Evansville, actively seeks new business, makes grant applications, etc. I think it's likely that investing some money in such a position will pay off for the city in the long run. Other possible business opportunities will very probably emerge from the new bio-diesel facility and the expected TID #6, and we need someone who can seek out such opportunities and assist businesses who would might otherwise go elsewhere. I had a brief conversation with Senator Jon Erpenbach at the "bricks" ceremony yesterday; he thinks that, especially if the Landmark crushing plant comes through, more smaller businesses would be interested in locating near the Landmark facility. We need to be prepared to do as much as possible to make sure that no oportunities are missed.

EDC formally requested that CofC draw up a job description and a budget for a local "economic development coordinator" and to bring it to a future meeting of EDC to hash out. CofC agreed to do this, and the two groups will then try to figure out how to fund the position.

EDC didn't complete all the items on its agenda last night, because several members of EDC are also members of the Redevelopment Authority, which meets 90 minutes after EDC starts. Thus EDC has an artificial cut-off time, whether or not we're finished. Ald. Tony Wyse, Chair of EDC and member of RDA, would like to switch the meeting times, since RDA usually has reasonably short meetings. EDC members agree, & I hope the RDA members will also agree.

As EDC becomes more active, we clearly need more meeting time to complete our business. If this switch takes place, we'll have longer meetings, but I think we'll move forward faster. Because of the press of time, EDC will be having a special meeting to create its operating budget for 2007 this coming Wednesday night, September 27 at 6PM. That will be the only agenda item.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Almost $400K!

Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi presented Evansville Mayor Sandy Decker with a check for $398,800 at a ceremony at City Hall at 1PM today. The money will fund 80% of the Transportation Enhancements project commonly known hereabouts as "redoing Evansville's downtown Main St." In part, the money will go to digging up the old paving bricks below the current asphalt on Main St, reclaiming them, and repaving a section of Main St. with those historic bricks. This reclamation of Evansville's history wouldn't be possible without this extra money. In addition, benches, bicycle racks, a redesigned and rebuilt bridge over Allen Creek, plus more parking will be available on Main St. once the project is completed.

Long-time Evansville resident Dee Losey presented both Secretary Busalacchi and Mayor Decker with one of the old bricks that have already been dug up, each inscribed with the words "Evansville 2007", to commemorate this auspicious occasion. State Senator Jon Erpenbach, four members of the City Council, City Hall staff, reporters and Evansville residents witnessed the ceremony. IMHO, special thanks should go to John Decker, Chris Eager, & Jeff Farnsworth, who as citizen volunteers were instrumental in getting the application materials together and submitting the entire package under the City's auspices. I have probably forgotten to mention some other people important in the process, and I apologize for omissions.

The money actually comes from the Federal government, but is administered by the State DOT. Evansville's project is one of 28 approved projects around the state, totaling $9.8 million. Sec'y Busalacchi said that applications were received for about $60 million worth of projects around the state but, of course, not all were approved. Evansville's application ranked very high among those that were approved. Our grant was a bit larger than the average.

On the third floor of City Hall, you can see a preliminary plan of the project. Please take the time to go look at it, and if you have questions, I'll do my best to answer them.

Bricks, etc.

Mayor Decker just informed me that Evansville has been awarded a large amount of grant $$$ from the state DOT to enhance the reconstruction of Main Street downtown. The project will occur in 2007. The enhancement grant will provide "extra" money to repave part of Main Street with bricks from a former era. Underneath the current asphalt surface are paving bricks that were covered over some 40-60 years ago (I've forgotten the details). The grant will allow contractors to uncover and reclaim many of those old bricks, then use them as the new Main St. paving. Other beautification enhancements will also be possible because of this grant.

The Secretary of DOT, Frank Busalacchi, will make the formal presentation at City Hall at 1PM.

More details will follow.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Deal Done

The Skate Club delivered a cashier's check for $5,000.00 to Evansville City Hall at 8:30 am this morning, Sept 11, 2006, to complete the Club's agreement with the city.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Due Diligence

#1. A week or so ago, I wrote a post about "What we don't know about bio-diesel." I got a private email back, which raised some questions about the environmental impact of the proposed facility. So I contacted North Prairie Productions' design engineer at Foth and Van Dyke with the questions, and he sent them on to NPP's vice-president, Jeff Pieterick, who could best answer for the company. I have received his reply. It is below, somewhat edited, not to change meaning, but just to take out extraneous material.
Mr. Juergens,

Thank you for the continuance of the community dialogue regarding the proposed North Prairie Productions biodiesel plant for Evansville......

“Dirty” Water
We have charged our engineers to arrive at methods to create as low an environmental footprint as possible. Included in this would be an effort to explore creative ways to use our discharge water. We are actively engaged in efforts right now to identify ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle water on site.

The discharge volume you quoted of 100 gpm is a number that was developed for our design basis, meaning that under highest-demand circumstances (dead of winter with all boilers going full steam to heat incoming railcars, two employees showering, 4 toilets flush at once, etc.) the pipes would be sized large enough to meet the need. The average flow is significantly less than this maximum value. The process water demand is a maximum of 100 gallons per hour (this is the water actually used to make biodiesel). Our engineers have been in contact with the managers of the Evansville water supply and treatment utilities with regards to their capacity to supply our water and treat our effluent. I would encourage you to contact them directly to discuss the increased demand from our facility in the context of their overall demand from all sources. (Fred's note: I have done so, and have been assured that capacity is not a problem.)

It would be irresponsible – and counter-productive – to engage the community in the fashion we have, only to ultimately develop an eyesore. We are very pleased with the way in which Evansville has already taken “ownership” of this enterprise in a fundamental sort of way. It will be our intent that this facility reflects the pride in the community, and the landscape design, signage, etc., will support that objective.

Responsible Development
It seems that most questions we receive regarding our utility and resource requirements are predicated on a much broader concern: Is NPP exploring all responsible options that will best protect and preserve the environment?

By way of offering assurance in this regard, I will say that the NPP Board of Directors has unanimously approved pursuit of Green Tier status for this enterprise. Green Tier is a WDNR program that requires a documented commitment to minimize impacts to the environment from all areas, including energy usage, emissions, waste/storm water, light pollution, etc. This program requires participants to have in place a qualified Environmental Management System, and NPP has already begun the process.

The design process for the facility itself is ongoing, but it’s on a short timeline. Mike Robinson and I had an encouraging meeting with Sandy Decker and members of the Evansville Initiative last Tuesday. Discussions are underway to determine an effective way to encourage their input into our design process. I anticipate at the least we will invite Steve Carlson to provide expert guidance and support as we move toward final engineering of the facility. We have also secured services of Madison Environmental Consultants and Focus on Energy, each of whose focus is dedicated to reducing our environmental footprint. We fully expect Steve and the others from EI, along with these other consultants, to push the envelope in favor of alternative energy and sustainable design, and thus serve as a counterbalance to the “institutional intransigence” that might otherwise be inherent to the effort.

I could provide a long list of options under consideration to promote this effort – some “pie in the sky” but many others that I expect will be incorporated. Working with EI throughout the process, I think the Evansville community will be assured that we have done an exceptional job in responsible design, and we look forward to sharing with you the unique solutions we incorporate as these decisions are made.

I hope you find this to be a sufficiently comprehensive and satisfactory answer to the questions you presented. Do not hesitate to follow-up with any additional questions or concerns you might have. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Jeff Pieterick, Vice-President, North Prairie Productions.

#2. I also received a phone call from the Madison office of the Sierra Club, whom I had contacted to get an opinion from them on the general issue of bio-diesel being a "good thing". The national office of Sierra Club does not have a position on bio-diesel, but the local representative I talked to, speaking as a concerned, knowledgable and interested citizen, said she was in favor of biodiesel. She said it's a better deal than corn-based ethanol, because you get significantly more energy out of bio-diesel relative to the energy inputs required to produce it, as compared to ethanol.

Further comments and questions are invited.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Evansville: A NEV City?

Neighborhood electric vehicles, or NEV's, are coming to Wisconsin. Last Spring the Legislature passed a bill legalizing NEV's, which are modified golf carts suitable for and licensed for city street use and capable of speeds up to 35 mph. Before NEV's can be used in a community, an ordinance authorizing their use must be passed. So far, Reedsburg, Sauk City, Mount Horeb, Wonewoc and Green Bay have done so. Other communities are considering doing so. Should Evansville think about this?

It's reported that that an NEV can go 200 miles for the price of one gallon of gas. The cost of a vehicle starts at about $7800, but can be more depending on features and options. NEV's have a range of 35-40 miles on a full charge, and re-charge in 8-12 hours. One company that makes them, Columbia Par Car, is located in Reedsburg WI. Another manufacturer is General Electric Motors, a subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler, located in Fargo ND.

Reedsburg Utilities just purchased an NEV equipped with heater/defroster and all-weather zipped doors. They will use it for reading electric and water meters year-round. RU's superintendent says that using an NEV provides cost savings, supports local industry and helps lower the dependency on foreign oil.

Here's another step that Evansville could take to brand itself as "green": pass an enabling ordinance for NEV's, then purchase one or more for appropriate city use by Department of Public Works and the Water & Light Utility.

I've seen several hybrid (gas/electric) vehicles around town. They have the advantage of being capable of highway speeds, but don't save all that much gas, and they're more expensive than their gasoline-powered twins.

Think about the trips you take in your current car. How many of them are within Evanville's city limits? Could an NEV work for you? With lower initial costs and very low operating costs, would it be worth it? Check out the websites mentioned above and contemplate the possibilities. What do you think?

Wind Power

Evansville's Water & Light Utility recently joined 40 other communities as a member of Wisconsin Public Power, Inc. The primary advantage of this is to save energy consumers money. But there are other advantages as well. WPPI recently unveiled a community-based wind power initiative. The program involves having qualifed developers place utility-scale wind turbines in member communities to achieve an end result similar to that of a single-site multi-turbine wind farm. WPPI will select a short list of qualified projects for development in 2007-2008.

I asked questions about renewable energy of the WPPI reps when they made their presentation to Common Council several months ago. Though they didn't reveal this initiative then, it's another good sign to hear of it now. The city made the right decision to join WPPI.

I would like to encourage the city to "brand" itself as a "green" community for economic development reasons, and this would be a further step in that direction. It would mesh well with our high-school's geothermal system, our solar panels on the swimming pool, and the expected new bio-diesel plant.

I have asked the following questions of our W&L utility:
• What steps does Evansville need to take to participate in this wind-power initiative?
• How soon do we need to begin whatever process is necessary in order to get on their list of qualified projects for development in 2007-2008?
• What costs will the city incur to participate?
• What kind of support from Common Council and the Mayor will be necessary to enhance the city's chances of being chosen?

I will report here on answers I receive.