RACINE — Cory Mason took his oath of office on Tuesday and became the new mayor of Racine in front of City Council chamber packed with family, friends and supporters.
Racine residents chose Mason as the city’s new leader in a special election last month. He beat 6th District Alderman Sandy Weidner to win the seat.
Mason is finishing the unexpired term of former mayor John Dickert, who resigned his seat in July to take a leadership role at the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. Mason’s term ends in the spring of 2019, when he could run for re-election.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman, a former state senator from the Town of Waterford, administered the oath of office as Mason’s wife, Rebecca — Racine’s municipal judge — held the Bible. In the crowd packing the ceremony were state Rep. Peter Barca, one of Mason’s fellow Democrats in the Assembly, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
In his first official remarks as mayor, Mason said he will focus on employment. He noted that the technology manufacturer Foxconn’s development plans for nearby Mount Pleasant pose opportunities for Racine.
“This is the biggest jobs opportunity of my lifetime,” he said. “We will seize it and give back to people in the City of Racine the dignity of working.”
Mason, who has pushed for environmental protections, stated the city would do its part to create clean energy jobs and reduce its carbon footprint.
Some of his supporters in attendance Tuesday said his Democratic values and record as a legislator inspired their support for his mayoral bid. Dean Willich of Racine said he expects Mason will work to protect the city’s natural resources as mayor. He said he also hopes the new mayor will do what he can to ensure people earn a livable wage.
“These are really difficult times,” Willich said. “We need somebody that has a strong will. To have him heading Racine is going to be wonderful.”
Sally Henzl, another supporter of the new mayor, said she appreciates his optimism for the city’s future.
“He thinks that we’re a great place, and I agree,” the 78-year-old Racine resident said.
After Mason took his oath of office, the City Council reinstated Dennis Wiser — who served as mayor between Dickert’s departure and Mason’s swearing-in — to his 10th District alderman seat. He also was reinstated as the council’s president.
Mason plans to fulfill his role as a state representative until mid-January, he announced Tuesday. He plans to resign Jan. 15.
RACINE — The Journal Times and the Kenosha News have signed an agreement to have Racine print the Kenosha paper starting with the May 1 edition.
The deal means that both the Kenosha News and The Journal Times will be printed on Racine’s press at 212 Fourth St.
“We look forward to working closer with the Kenosha News,” said Journal Times Publisher Mark Lewis. “Over the past several years we have partnered with the Kenosha News on a number of items, including a delivery partnership in overlapping areas. This is an expansion of that relationship.”
The daily and Sunday Kenosha News, as well as the KN Sampler and Tune-In will be printed in Racine.
The Racine plant had been serving as the Kenosha News’ emergency backup printing facility.
“With the consolidation in printing facilities across the country, it was important for us to secure a printing partner that was close and shared the same values in community journalism,” said Kenosha News Publisher Randy Rickman. “After several months of discussion, we agreed to terms last week and the agreement was signed over the weekend.”
This winter, The Journal Times is converting to new computer-to-plate technology. This technology allows an image of the page to be burned directly to a printing plate, rather than having the images print to negatives first and then burned to plates.
The new technology will enhance printing quality for all publications. Additionally, The Journal Times is investing in upgrading its insertion equipment in its packaging department to handle the increased volume.
Since decommissioning its press in August 2009, the Kenosha News has been printed at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Burnham Street facility in West Milwaukee. Cutting the distance between the printing facility and its readers was a key factor in the Kenosha News’ decision.
UNION GROVE — Voters on Tuesday approved the $7.85 million Union Grove High School referendum 789 votes in favor to 728 against.
About 52 percent of voters were in favor of the referendum and 48 percent voted against it, with a 19 percent voter turnout.
“I am very pleased, as are our School Board members,” said District Administrator Alan Mollerskov.
In Union Grove there were 358 votes in favor and 185 against. In Dover, the referendum passed by a hair with 57 votes in favor and 56 against. Voters in Raymond were against the issue, with 153 for and 258 against. In Yorkville, results were divided, with 220 votes in favor and 224 against.
In the small section of the district in Kenosha County, there were no votes in favor and three against in the Town of Brighton. In the Town of Paris, there was one vote in favor and two against.
The referendum will allow the district to take out a $7.85 million loan to fund construction of an agriculture building and greenhouse, renovations to technical education facilities, science lab upgrades and an addition that would include space for physical education, fitness and art.
Mollerskov said that he was thankful to voters for reading the flyers that the district sent out and watching the video posted on its website, in order to inform themselves about the issue.
School Board President Diane Skewes echoed his sentiments.
“I am feeling very good that the community is supporting the advancement of educational opportunities,” she said.
Skewes said she’s always in favor of doing what’s best for the kids.
“I want to thank the community for supporting our kids and their education,” Skewes said.
The referendum will not add to the district’s tax rate, according to information provided by the school. Current debt from the 1997 referendum that funded construction of the school performance center is set to be entirely retired by 2021-22 and the debt from the new projects would take its place in the mill rate.
Mollerskov said he was disturbed after seeing flyers about the referendum that were recently distributed in Raymond and Union Grove that he said were cynical and full of half-truths. The district wasn’t trying to sneak anything by voters by holding a special election, but was trying to stay on schedule to have improvements completed by the start of the fall 2018 school year, he said.
RACINE — City Hall will add another attorney to its roster and employees across city departments will see wage increases under a 2018 budget approved 12-2 by aldermen on Tuesday.
Sixth District Alderman Sandy Weidner voted against approving the spending plan, as did 5th District Alderman Steven Smetana.
There was no discussion among aldermen.
The City Council meeting was the first for Mayor Cory Mason, who was sworn in at the start of the proceedings.
This year’s budget talks have focused heavily on the need for strategic infrastructure spending to help boost the city’s tax base and levying ability.
As part of that quest for growth, the 2018 budget calls for allocating $190,000 in salary and fringe benefits to hire a development attorney.
The attorney would work on redevelopment projects the city currently hires outside agencies to handle, including legal work associated with brownfield sites, and contracts involving public-private partnerships, and would be paid for out of dollars the city typically spends on contracted services for development, City Administrator Jim Palenick has said.
In addition to the development attorney, four positions are to be added to the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department: two tree trimmers and two equipment operators. The hires would restore positions the department lost during budget cuts in previous years.
An additional $20,000 in salaries also would be added to the Mayor’s Office to transform what is now an administrative assistant position into a communications manager post.
The general fund budget is projected to increase by about 0.6 percent, to $81.6 million, under the spending plan, with the bulk of that increase funding new positions or wage increases aldermen previously approved following a wage study, as well as $275,100 in increases to police officer wage and benefit increases in 2018.
As part of business Tuesday night, aldermen unanimously approved a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the 165 members of the Racine Police Association. The agreement calls for increasing the union members’ base wages by 7.38 percent and 22 cents per hour over the course of the contract.
The property tax levy is projected to increase by roughly 1 percent, bringing it to $54.3 million.
Officials won’t know what the proposed property tax levy means for the city’s tax rate until the state releases the total assessed value of all taxable properties in the city sometime in December.
As it did last year, the city is proposing increases to its stormwater utility and recycling fees, but the recycling fee increase won’t be as big as administration officials initially proposed.
Instead of increasing the annual fee by $3.70 a year to $30.42, the fee will go up $2.60 to $29.32.
The stormwater fee is slated to increase by $2.28 to $102.60 annually.
Aldermen voted 11-3 to approve a 10-year capital improvement plan that calls for investing heavily in development, including setting aside $55 million in 2018 for the contentious event center/arena proposal, as well as $6.1 million proposed for the former Machinery Row riverfront redevelopment project area.
Weidner and Smetana voted against the plan, as did 15th District Alderman Melissa Lemke.
Those same three aldermen also voted against a 16-year plan for the city’s intergovernmental revenue sharing fund.
There was no discussion on the motions.
In addition to money for the event center, the proposed CIP also earmarks $30.5 million to be spent in 2020 for a new public safety building, as well as $2.5 million for a new fire station on 16th Street.
During a Committee of the Whole meeting last week, aldermen voted to eliminate earmarks from the spending plan that called for spending $5 million on a redevelopment of the Uptown Theater in 2020, and $5.6 million for a phase-in of side-loading garbage trucks.