The parade of Halloween trick-or-treaters at the door has subsided and that means the scariest time of the year for area taxpayers is here: budget time. There are still a lot of moving pieces as cities, villages, school boards and the county hold hearings as they get set to adopt their taxing and spending plans and capital budgets — and a few surprises.
This week, Racine aldermen wielded the ax on their capital improvement plan, eliminating a $5 million earmark for an Uptown Theater rehab and nixing a proposed $5 million plan to phase-in side-loading garbage trucks. A proposal to cut $39.5 million earmarked for bonding for the proposed Downtown hotel/event center failed. In another vote, the City Council Committee of the Whole advanced a new plan to demolish 15 buildings in the Machinery Row area to create 27 acres of clear land for redevelopment at a cost of $6.47 million and build a $2.3 million public riverfront promenade. Racine also got a little good news from the state on levy limits and was able to reduce the proposed tax levy on the proposed $81.6 million budget to $54.3 million — saving taxpayers about $515,000. The final numbers can change down the stretch, but right now, city taxpayers are looking at a levy increase of about 1 percent.
Over at Racine County, not much change is expected in tax rates next year thanks in part to a spending decrease of $8.1 million in County Executive Jonathan Delagraves’s $151.6 million budget. The spending decrease was attributed in large part to the sale of the Ridgewood Care Center. The county plan includes about a half a million in support for community-based programs like the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization ($100,000), the Racine Heritage Museum ($102,000) and a boost to help fund the Burlington Community Pool ($100,000).
Delagrave’s plan also calls for boosting the district attorney’s staff by 2.5 positions and increasing spending for the Racine Economic Development Corp. by $100,000. The proposed budget also includes a pay boost for county supervisors of $2,200 to put their salaries at $7,000 a year. The pay of the board chairman and vice chairman would also go up. The increase was criticized as “a bit much” by one supervisor in a contentious discussion at one budget session, while others noted it was the first adjustment in 27 years.
Racine Unified completed work on its budget already, adopting a $315 million budget for next year. That, too, holds the line on the tax rate and has an increase of about a half a cent — putting the cost to taxpayers at $10.02 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Unified’s capital budget plans calls for some major projects, including $5.26 million to upgrade Horlick High School’s science labs and building a trade building, $4.16 million to complete the heating and cooling system replacement at Jerstad-Agerholm Elementary School and $3.9 million for heating and cooling work at Mitchell Middle School, plus $2.1 million to complete construction at the REAL School in Sturtevant.