RACINE — Aldermen received information Wednesday on a proposed 10-year capital improvement plan for the City of Racine, a plan which includes about $2.5 million in the short term for the demolition of the Machinery Row buildings, and at least $5 million in the long term to aid in the redevelopment of the old Uptown Theater.
Wednesday’s presentation, the first in the 2018 budget process, was limited to proposals for infrastructure and equipment spending.
That’s a shift from previous budgets that typically kicked off with a focus on the administration’s proposed operations spending.
As City Administrator Jim Palenick explained, there is an important reason for the shift.
“From a strategic standpoint, we are trying to look at some of those big-picture items; some of those longer-term strategic kind of decision points,” Palenick said. “As an older urban core community effectively constrained by any future ability to expand its boundaries through traditional, outward annexation, the only real chance that we have to thrive and prosper hinges on a willingness to reinvest … in proactive redevelopment.”
Although interim Mayor Dennis Wiser formally submitted his proposed 2018 operating budget to aldermen at the end of Wednesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, the spending plan won’t be discussed until Monday when he delivers his formal budget address.
The final budget is slated to be approved on Nov. 7, the same day the new mayor takes office. State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, and 6th District Alderman Sandy Weidner face off in Tuesday’s special mayoral election.
Weidner walks out
The meeting started about 20 minutes late as the committee struggled to achieve a quorum.
Weidner was initially present but left just after the meeting started, breaking that quorum for about 10 minutes until another alderman arrived.
Weidner later said she decided to leave the meeting after she said she heard the committee chairman, Alderman Q.A. Shakoor II, say aldermen would be “gaveled down” if they asked questions about anything other than numbers.
“The purpose of going to a committee meeting is so you can have some discussion and debate about a budget,” Weidner said.
A call made to Shakoor to verify that he had made the gavel statement was not returned by late Wednesday night; neither were calls made to two other aldermen.
As it turned out, only two aldermen asked questions about the presentation Wednesday: 7th District Alderman Ray DeHahn, who asked for a clarification about a road project; and 9th District Alderman Terry McCarthy, who asked about the Uptown theater project and later about the city’s annual borrowing.
Discussing some of the bigger-ticket items in the CIP, Palenick noted the plan includes the full $55 million for the proposed Downtown event center, budgeted for next year.
Both mayoral candidates remain opposed to the plan, but Palenick has said that budgeting for the project is just like anything else in the CIP: a proposal.
In a resolution passed earlier this year, aldermen decreed the city would have to accomplish multiple tasks — among them finding a private-sector developer to build a hotel and securing a tenant agreement with a United States Hockey League team — before the City Council and the Redevelopment Authority would agree to move forward with the project.
As for $6.1 million proposed for the former Machinery Row — a project the city is now calling the Water Street Redevelopment — roughly $2.5 million would cover the proposed demolition of the site’s properties and another $3.3 million is devoted to continued work on the river walk promenade and the seawall.
The proposed CIP also earmarks $30 million to be spent in 2020 for a new public safety building.
Wednesday’s presentation also included an overview of the city’s intergovernmental revenue account, which Palenick explained the city hopes to use more aggressively and strategically in the coming years.
Funded by money Racine receives each year from neighboring communities via the sewer service agreement, the intergovernmental revenue, or IG fund, is intended to help Racine spark development within its borders.
A goal, said Palenick, is not to use the funds in a “hap-hazard, pay-as-you-go manner” but in very strategic way that will allow the city to get the most out of the money.
The IG fund expires in 2032, but funds are budgeted through 2033, because the city projects to have roughly $1.2 million left over after it expires.
The biggest yearly expense budgeted for the IG fund covers debt service for the proposed event center, with between $800,000 and $1 million budgeted annually through 2033, for a total of $12.8 million.
The second-largest expense is $6.2 million in debt service for the revitalization of the historic Uptown theater, spread out from 2021-2032.