RACINE — With the imminent arrival of Foxconn in its suburban backyard, the City of Racine now has a tremendous opportunity to live up to its economic potential.
But to do so, the city will “need to enhance its attractiveness to developers and to the thousands of new residents who may be seeking to relocate to fill the jobs promised by Foxconn and its supply chain.”
That is among the findings in a recently released report, “City of Racine’s Fiscal Condition: Living Within Its Means,” commissioned by the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread and produced by the Wisconsin Policy Forum, which analyzes the city’s financial health.
The Policy Forum evaluated the city’s finances from 2012 to 2016 and its current condition in areas including health care, debt and transportation.
Rob Henken, Wisconsin Policy Forum president, said with Foxconn coming to the area, the project’s size is going to highlight some of Racine’s underlying challenges.
The city, Henken said, has managed its budget fairly well despite rising health costs. However, a lack of “financial capacity” has put the city finances in potential jeopardy for the long term.
“Foxconn presents economic development and municipal revenue opportunities for the city,” the report states. “On the negative side, it raises the prospect of vastly increased municipal service demands that city leaders are just beginning to contemplate.”
The report referenced two of the main concerns for the city — its long-term debt and costs to retiree health care — which could affect the city’s fiscal state later on.
“Clearly ... it’s impossible to predict the future; we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Henken said. “But an underlining theme of this is Foxconn — what’s Foxconn going to mean to all of this?
“Foxconn could be what it takes to start to address this net new construction issue and start to have the development that’s going to produce a greater property tax base and produce healthier revenue growth.”
Transit is one of the city’s largest problems, which Henken said is “emblematic of the overall challenge,” with the city subsidizing bus routes that serve suburban communities.
According to the report, the Ryde program, which allows the city to provide busing to surrounding communities, receives $238,000 from Mount Pleasant and $32,900 from the Village of Caledonia. The Village of Sturtevant recently voted to not participate in the program and thus kept its $42,600 contribution.
“We see the city having to put in more and more levy (for busing) over time which adds to the general pressures that it’s facing,” Henken said.
The Policy Forum report says that “whether the subsidies for service outside of Racine can and should continue is likely to be debated as Ryde’s fiscal challenges mount. Ironically, these discussions may occur at the very time that a vast expansion of regional bus service appears to be needed in light of Foxconn and its anticipated related development.”
But Foxconn may provide Racine and its surrounding communities with “a unique opportunity to tackle the issue of regional bus service collaboratively and to determine an equitable means of delivering and paying for a true regional transit system,” the report states
Racine Mayor Cory Mason said Foxconn has “forced conversations about regionalism” and how the surrounding municipalities might work together.
“The city doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it exists as part of a larger community,” Mason said. “We have a shared future in the region … what we haven’t figured out is how to govern together and share resources very well. Mostly from decisions made by people who are no longer in office.”
Mason said it’s possible that upward of 200,000 people could call Racine County home and estimates a majority of those people will reside east of Interstate 94. (As of 2017, the county’s population was 195,294.) The increased population will likely put added stress on services such as police, fire, sewer and water.
“At some point there will be a discussion about water resources and what’s an equitable distribution for the resource,” Mason said. “Those are all conversations that we’ll need to have.”
However, the last consolidation of resources — county dispatch services — caused a legal battle between the city and county during then-Mayor John Dickert’s tenure.
Mason said he and County Executive Jonathan Delagrave found a solution to that problem, and with Foxconn soon to break ground, the region has a sense of “we’re in this together, and we’re competing as a region against Milwaukee and Kenosha.”
Mason points to the relationship between the villages of Somers and Pleasant Prairie and the City of Kenosha and their forging of cooperative agreements as a potential image of Racine’s future.
“It hasn’t been perfect … but they figured it out, and they are growing at a rate much faster than our region is,” Mason said.
“We have a shared future in the region … what we haven’t figured out is how to govern together and share resources very well.” Racine Mayor Cory Mason
RACINE — The Racine Unified School District and several of its stakeholders celebrated the dedication of new science classrooms on Monday afternoon at Horlick High School, 2119 Rapids Drive.
Construction included a two-floor addition to the school with four new science classrooms inside, as well as renovations of existing science labs in the main building.
An elevator also was installed in the addition that provides access to the main building’s third floor. Students began using the new and renovated labs in late January.
“These labs are beautiful, bright, inviting,” said Unified Superintendent Lolli Haws during the dedication ceremony.
The cost of the labs and the addition was about $4.8 million.
“Thanks particularly to our entire community, as this is built with referendum dollars, so all of us are contributing to this great effort,” Haws said.
In 2014, district voters approved a 15-year property tax referendum that would allow Unified to collect $8.5 million annually.
In addition to the referendum money used for construction, the new labs also benefited from a $25,000 donation from CNH Industrial that funded the purchase of lab equipment.
According to Steven Zahn, a longtime biology teacher at Horlick, the new labs include a safer electric system and a more sophisticated air-filtration system than the old labs. The labs used for chemistry and physics, where fires could occur, are now equipped with showers as well. All the furniture in the labs is movable, giving teachers more flexibility in setting up the classroom space.
“It’s a really good feeling to get up to speed with other districts,” Zahn said.
However, Zahn said he thinks the biggest improvement is the elevator, as it saves teachers from having to lug science equipment up and down the stairs and gives students with disabilities access to the school’s upper floors.
“The labs give a lot more possibility for experiments,” said Olivia Pitrof, a 10th-grade academy ambassador who is in the Horlick biomedical pathway.
Haws and School Board President Robert Wittke Jr. thanked all those who contributed to the project and especially CNH for its donation.
“As a Horlick alum, I really appreciate the investment in this school,” Wittke said. “It really makes me proud.”
BURLINGTON — A new school safety grant program and planning for Foxconn-related jobs and construction projects took center stage as topics at a legislative briefing for local officials Monday morning.
Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave; state Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem Lakes; and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, joined about 20 Racine County officials and citizens at the Burlington Campus of Gateway Technical College, 496 S. McCanna Parkway. The meeting was facilitated by the Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce.
Both Delagrave and Vos addressed concerns relating to the heightened level of traffic occurring across the area because of the Interstate 94 construction project. Construction for the project, which is to prepare for the upcoming Foxconn Technology Group manufacturing campus in Mount Pleasant, began last month. Delagrave said the state Department of Transportation is doing a good job with the project so far.
“Congestion will occur, but people need to plan accordingly and be patient,” said Delagrave. “This is for a long-term gain, and there might be some complications in the meantime, but we are asking people to be patient with us.”
Delagrave said he wants to see the travel time from I-94 to Downtown Racine be reduced in the near future. He said he hopes to make the City of Racine bus system more efficient. He also said he is working with Kenosha County to possibly use Highway KR as another pathway to Downtown.
“Racine County will change drastically, and it’s a chance to redefine our health care, our school districts and our quality of life … we feel like it will be a huge win for Racine County,” said Delagrave.
Jackson Parker, a retired educator who served as superintendent of both the Racine Unified (in an interim role) and Burlington Area school districts during his career, voiced concerns over the possibility of temporary workers for Foxconn increasing the level of human trafficking in the area.
“I wonder if we need to think about the demographic makeup of who is coming,” said Parker. “It could be a plus if we can teach people to stick around because of our schools and jobs, but we have to be ready for the specifics of the people who are coming.”
Vos agreed, and said both local and state representatives will have to be careful about the possibility of increased human trafficking. The Racine Police Department’s Human Trafficking Task Force, established in 2013, has already been discussing this issue.
Vos on Monday discussed the $100 million school safety plan signed by Gov. Scott Walker last month. The bill created an Office of School Safety in the Wisconsin Department of Justice to help manage grants for local school districts across the state. Vos said school districts will have to decide how to use the money for their specific security needs if they receive the funding.
“We don’t want to say that it’s a one-size-fits-all solution,” Vos said. “A shooting could happen in a very rural school or a very urban school, but the day-to-day operations of how a school operates are dramatically different in a rural area where there might be 200 kids, compared to a very urban district where there’s thousands from all over the community.”
Vos said the bill was designed to help school districts decide how to keep their students safe. He said districts can begin applying for the money in the fall.
The next Burlington Governmental Relations and Communications Committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for December.
“Racine County will change drastically and it’s a chance to redefine our health care, our school districts and our quality of life … we feel like it will be a huge win for Racine County.” Jonathan Delagrave, Racine County Executive