RACINE COUNTY — While each of the county’s municipalities make decisions on their own, for the sake of their success in the future, their leaders might need to start making decisions together.
The issues that have persisted in the City of Racine and surrounding communities over the past several decades are receiving attention, in the form of addressing how can the municipal governments help each other.
Today, representatives from the Wisconsin Policy Forum are scheduled to meet with leaders from the largest municipalities east of Interstate 94 to discuss how to make better uses of their resources as part of the Resilient Communities series.
The gathering, set for 5 p.m. today at the Racine Theatre Guild Auditorium, 2519 Northwestern Ave., will include officials from Racine, Caledonia, Mount Pleasant, Sturtevant and the county, according to a notice posted by the county. The session is open to the public, although a public question period is not scheduled.
The live presentation of the report can be viewed below:
The event is part of the Resilient Communities program, which has brought leaders together to talk about ways to improve the greater Racine area since 2017.
Rob Henken, president of the Wisconsin Policy Forum, said the forum has updated its data to include information from 2016 to 2018.
“What we are seeing is certainly disparity when we look at the City of Racine compared to the surrounding municipalities’ disparities in terms of poverty, in terms of median income, in terms of crime rates,” Henken said. “We clearly see the picture of a City of Racine whose population is younger, more diverse and certainly more mobile than we see when we look at the surrounding communities.”
Henken said the recent data does not account for the Foxconn Technology Group development in Mount Pleasant.
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According to the Wisconsin Policy Forum, Racine County might have more in common with Milwaukee County than two of its other neighbors, Kenosha and Walworth counties.
Racine County gained more than 7,600 residents since 2000, similar to Milwaukee County, which gained more than 5,300. During that same time, Kenosha County gained more than 20,000 and Walworth gained more than 10,000.
Despite Kenosha and Walworth’s large population increases, both of those counties still lag behind Racine, which has a population of nearly 196,500.
With a larger population, that means municipalities will have a higher demand for government services.
“In greater Racine, while property values are again beginning to increase, they are not increasing nearly as rapidly as they are in Kenosha,” Henken said, adding that the City of Kenosha has some challenges similar to Racine.
“But the difference is not nearly as pronounced as we see in Racine. And we see a greater Kenosha region that is growing economically and we see a greater Racine region that is starting to rebound a little bit but is clearly not seeing the growth of greater Kenosha,” Henken said.
Gross tax rate
One area that illustrates the challenges the city faces, Henken said, is on its gross tax rate.
The gross tax rate includes the tax rate of the municipality but it also includes the tax rates for the Racine Unified School District, Gateway Technical College and Racine County.
“Here you have the City of Racine that is severely challenged in meeting the service needs and expectations of its citizens,” Henken said. “For a variety of reasons, it is taxing property at a higher rate and it’s sort of a vicious cycle in that the much higher tax rate in the City of Racine makes it less competitive as it tries to attract new residents and new businesses and improve its economy.”
Henken said it is not good for any municipality, and particularly municipalities east of I-94, “if there’s this big of a disparity and if the largest municipality in the region faces a competitive disadvantage, then it’s going to be difficult for it to dig its way out.”