RACINE — Racine’s City Council Tuesday upheld Mayor Cory Mason’s veto of funding for an event center.
The council addressed the matter Tuesday after Mason vetoed funding for the arena from the city’s spending plans. The veto was one of three Mason issued last month; he also vetoed a communications position and an additional city attorney job focused on development. The council was originally scheduled to take up the vetoes at its Nov. 21 meeting but delayed the conversation because one alderman was absent.
The event center/arena was proposed by former Mayor John Dickert and supported by Council President Dennis Wiser, who had filled in as interim mayor after Dickert’s resignation and until Mason took office. Mason announced last month that he was vetoing the funds for the project from the spending plans, in keeping with his campaign promise.
“As a mayor who wants to set a good tone with the voters who just elected me less than a month ago, it is really important that that I follow through and keep my word,” Mason told media outlets at the time.
The City Council voted down an effort to override Mason’s veto, with seven aldermen voting to override and eight voting against. A successful override would have required a two-thirds majority of the City Council, which would be 10 aldermen.
People who spoke in favor of the override said the event center would provide an opportunity to boost employment and drive tourism. Some who supported Mason’s veto said they like the idea of the project, but that now is not the time.
“I’m voting to give us a chance to come together to heal,” said 14th District Alderman Jason Meekma, who voted against overriding the veto. Meekma said he thinks the project could be good for Racine but that the city has become too divided over the matter.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, council members received an update from city staff about progress on a list of 10 benchmarks that were developed to keep Racine on track in developing the arena. Staff said Monday that they had so far met six of the 10 benchmarks, such as developing an agreement with a private developer to construct a hotel. A tenant lease with a minor-league hockey team is also almost finished, staff said.
One benchmark could not be achieved, staff said Monday. The board of Real Racine, the county’s tourism agency, which receives room taxes from hotel stays to promote local tourism, voted against spending those funds on paying down event center project debt.
Alderman John Tate II, who represents the 3rd District, cited that issue in voting against overriding the veto.
Mason vetoed $20,000 in additional expenses to eliminate an administrative assistant and turn it into a communication manager role. In an explanation of the veto, Mason wrote that he thinks the city should instead create a full-time position devoted to communications, rather than add the work to someone else’s current duties.
The council also upheld that veto and will instead lay plans for a full-time role.
Mason’s third veto nixed $190,000 in salary and benefits to create a new city attorney position that would focus on development efforts. He explained in writing that he thought the city could realize a savings through different avenues than a new job, such as negotiating lower rates with outside lawyers and opting for longer-term, project-based contracts.
Council members did not try to override that veto Tuesday.
RACINE COUNTY — The Racine County Board Tuesday night unanimously approved borrowing $79.205 million to help pay for costs associated with the Foxconn Technology Group project in Mount Pleasant.
The board authorized the sale of the bonds to J.P. Morgan Securities LLC with an interest rate of 2.44 percent. The sale of the bonds got the attention of the six largest banks in the country with each of them placing a bid, officials said.
The county plans to use $70 million to purchase land in Area I of the Foxconn development; $5 million for other projects related to Foxconn; $3.3 million to pay for the interest; and just over $573,000 to pay for professional services.
Area I of the development is the area bounded by Interstate 94 on the west, Highway H on the east, Highway KR on the south and Braun Road on the north.
Brian Della, senior managing consultant for PFM Financial Advisors, said the bonds can be refinanced in two or three years and likely will be paid off in 20 years.
“The debt service payments on those 20-year bonds will be made by, predominantly, the $70 million special assessment put on Area I and paid by Foxconn,” Della said.
The borrowing did have a slight negative impact on the county’s credit rating, which County Board members knew was likely to happen. The county rating fell just one spot from Aa1 to Aa2, according to the rating service Moody’s.
“Not a big move, just the smallest notch you can move down,” Della said. “No one likes to have their rating go down, but there’s nothing you can do about it and it’s not going to have a big impact on your borrowing rates.”
Before the sale of the bonds, the county’s debt was at $60 million. With the $79.2 million in new borrowing, and anticipated borrowing of an additional $62.6 million related to Foxconn, the county’s overall debt will be about $200 million.
The County Board on Tuesday unanimously approved adding the City of Burlington to its 911 joint dispatch operations based at the sheriff’s substation in Yorkville. Burlington will pay the county $183,000 per year, with that money being divided between the county and other municipalities that utilize the dispatch center for their police and fire operations.
The board also unanimously approved allocating $10,000 to the Gateway Technical College Foundation for the “Gateway Promise” program, which helps students from poor economic backgrounds enroll in courses. “That is a fund for eligible high school students who would have not been able to attend college,” Supervisor Janet Bernberg of Wind Point said. “I think it’s very deserving.”
As opioids continue to be a problem in Wisconsin, more than 20 counties in the state have joined a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and the County Board is considering a resolution that would authorize Racine County to join the lawsuit. The resolution was first read at the Tuesday meeting and will be discussed further, likely at the board’s Dec. 19 meeting.
CALEDONIA — The Caledonia Village Board has requested that the village attorney prepare a raze order for the former Western Publishing building at 5945 Erie St.
In August, a group of residents living close to the abandoned property filed an open records request and found that in the previous calendar year police had been called to the property 19 times to investigate criminal activity.
In October, village officials told the residents they had inspected the building — once a building that was part of the former Dominican College campus — and found that it was structurally sound and had worked with the owner, 5945 Erie St. LLC, to secure it from trespassers.
Village staff met with some of the building’s neighbors on Nov. 14 to discuss options for how to handle ongoing problems, but made no final decision.
On Monday, the Village Board met in closed session to discuss the property. When it re-opened the session, the board directed the village attorney to issue a raze order.
Village Administrator Tom Christensen said he still believes the property could have been redeveloped, but the neighbors have waited long enough.
“The neighbors have been very patient over the past 15 years with a blighted property in their neighborhood,” Christensen said. “It’s in the best interest of the village to do pursue a resolution to this.”
Christensen said he did not know at this time when the raze order would be executed.
The Racine Unified School District School Board and administration are also discussing plans to demolish the former site of Olympia Brown Elementary School, 5915 Erie St., located across the driveway from the former Western Publishing site. A new Olympia Brown Elementary opened in the summer of 2016 at 2115 5½ Mile Road. The district’s REAL School operated in the Erie Street building until the end of the 2016-17 school year. That program is now housed at 10116 Stellar Ave. in Sturtevant.