Some on council unhappy city process wasn’t followed; others confused about dissent
By Brandi Makusk
What began as a simple request to approve the city’s 2017 capital budget became a 40-minute conversation about Stanley Street.
Director of Public Works Scott Schatschneider on Oct. 10 gave members of the Stevens Point City Council a rundown of planned roadway projects for 2017. Restriping Stanely St. was not among them, prompting Ald. David Shorr to question why.
“We had recently been introduced to a four-to-three [lane] conversion on Stanley St.; that wasn’t apart of the budget,” Mayor Mike Wiza said at Monday’s Finance Committee meeting. “We only recently found out about it, roughly a month ago.”
Wiza said “private entities” have been hosting presentations on the proposal for several months, but the city had never been asked to consider it until recently, when Ald. Garrett Ryan made the request for the topic to be discussed in an official capacity. Wiza said the city has a specific process it undergoes before considering a roadway expense, and said the Stanley St. proposal hasn’t yet gone through that process.
“We haven’t checked off those boxes yet,” Wiza said.
Shorr argued the cost was likely to be small, and said “there is compelling case” to include the restriping in the 2017 budget.
Schatschneider outlined about $625,000 in necessary projects to the city’s worst roadways during the meeting.
“We’re giving him $400,000 to do it,” Wiza said. “Hopefully, all the bids come in super-low, and then we can [do more].”
The city’s process for changing a roadway, Wiza said, includes obtaining a recommendation from the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation, notifying property owners along the roadway and holding a public hearing. Information relating to costs and traffic data must also be compiled and presented to the public and the council, he said.
“We have things we have to vet as a city — not through a private entity,” Wiza said. “We have engineers we pay good money for to evaluate the conditions of our roads and prioritize them based on engineering.”
Shorr argued the project was “not a totally new idea,” as Schatschneider has been discussing the issue with the DOT for some time.
“While we don’t have a sharp-pencil estimate, we have, I think, an estimate of $50,000,” Shorr said. “I think it’s a strong enough case to be made this would be a good thing to do in 2017, but it will involve trade-offs with what’s been presented [in the budget].”
Shorr also suggested the City Council delay approving the budget until next week, giving time for department heads to return with concrete information on the project.
Wiza again reminded the committee the city has a process it must follow, but noted if the council so wished, it could vote to use money from the city’s contingency fund to pay for the project — provided it was received favorably by the public.
Ald. Jeremy Slowinski said he strongly disagreed with the idea of using contingency funds.
“That contingency is set for emergencies, and I don’t want us to start planning projects based on those funds.”
Slowinski said he wasn’t opposed to the project, but there’s nothing structurally wrong with Stanley St., noting Schatschneider had already compiled a list of the biggest priorities for road maintenance in the city.
“I have a problem with us spending all this time discussing and moving it up the list to get this done,” Slowinski said. “I’m not against it, I just want to make sure we don’t loose focus on what needs to be done.”
Slowsinksi also said he’d never heard safety concerns before the road diet movement began.
“There’s really no need for it to be fixed,” he said. “This sounds like more of a group of people who want to change it.”
Ald. Mary Kneebone said while she “generally supports” the idea of the lane conversion, she was angry some on the council appeared to be pushing it through quickly.
“I don’t appreciate the process getting hijacked by a few special interests, and that’s all I’m going to say,” Kneebone said.
Council President Mike Phillips also said he also believes the project is being “fast-tracked.”
“It feels like we’re missing some steps here,” he said.
Schatschneider said most projects are “in the queue a year or two, minimum,” before they reach the top of the priority list.
“But this is a unique situation,” Schatschneider said. “I had conversations with the DOT several years ago, even before I worked for the city, about Stanley St. being a good candidate for the lane conversion.”
Wiza said the city will hold a public input meeting on Oct. 26 to discuss restriping the roadway. The meeting is planned for 6:30 PM at Washington Elementary School, 3500 Prais Street.
Planned Pavement Maintenance Projects for 2017
North Point Dr…..between Michigan Ave. & Wilshire Blvd.
Michigan Ave. ……between North Point Dr. & Maria Dr.
Water St…….between Wisconsin St. & Whiting Ave.
West River Dr. …..between W. Clark St. & railroad; then railroad to Cty. Hwy. HH
West Zinda Dr. …..between city limits & State Hwy. 66; State Hwy. 66 to Maple Ridge Dr.
Fourth Ave……between Second St. & First St.; First St. to Frederick St.; Frederick St. to Lee St.
Minnesota Ave….between Rice St. & Church St./Bus. 51
Pulverize & Relay
Whiting Ave…..between Water St. & Cty. Hwy. HH