YORKVILLE — A year ago, the Foxconn Technology Group agreement was still being worked out between the company, state and local officials. Now, with construction underway in Mount Pleasant, the project has begun to transform the county.
On Tuesday, Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave reminded the County Board of some of those changes, such as local businesses being awarded contracts on the project, employee training programs, and improvements in roads and Interstate 94, as a direct impact from Foxconn.
“Foxconn is the catalyst for these resources to be made available to us,” Delagrave said to The Journal Times before his annual budget address at the County Board chambers at the Ives Grove Office Complex in Yorkville. “I think we were already aligning ourselves for achievements, but (Foxconn) accelerated that and I think that these achievements are larger in scale than otherwise would have been.”
On Tuesday, Delagrave presented the proposed $156 million county budget for 2019. The budget includes a tax levy of more than $51 million, which is $1.4 million more than the 2018 budget.
The County Board needs to approve the budget before the mill rate is set; however, the proposed mill rate is $3.40 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That is 9 cents less than the 2018 budget; however, some properties may be assessed at a higher value than last year so it’s possible some residents could pay more than they did for this year.
As part of the proposed budget, the county has received a $250,000 grant to bring Credible Messenger, a national mentorship program, to Racine.
“This program will connect youth involved in the juvenile justice system with adult mentors to further support those children to become successful members of the community,” Delagrave said in his budget address. “We believe this program can help change generational cycles and address challenging life circumstances.”
Delagrave told The Journal Times earlier Tuesday that he is very excited about this program.
“We believe that this grant is going to be a game-changer and a huge tool in our tool box, along with some other things that we’ve initiated to really curb the cycle of poverty,” Delagrave said.
Delagrave said the Racine County Sheriff’s Office is set to receive a $1.5 million grant from the state as part of the Electronics and Information Technology Manufacturing Zone Local Government Grant Program. The EITM was created by the state to provide tax credits for Foxconn.
Those funds will allow the Sheriff’s Office to hire additional personnel, including two new metro drug investigators, two new criminal investigators and two new full-time trainers for both internal and community education.
Delagrave said after talking to officials from the Reno, Nev., area about how the Tesla Gigafactory affected their community, he wanted to make sure the county was prepared for potential increases in crime.
“We need to be proactive in our community with law enforcement issues,” Delagrave said. “We just want to make sure we’re out in front, so if issues do arise, we’re on top of it and it doesn’t fester or manifest itself to a higher degree.”
Sheriff Christopher Schmaling has brought some ideas on how to be proactive as more people come to the area, Delagrave said.
“This $1.5 million we really asked for and lobbied to the state, and the state believes this is well-spent money,” Delagrave said.
The Sheriff’s Office accounts for nearly 45 percent of the county levy, Delagrave said, and has a budget of more than $23 million.
“This budget reflects our priority that Sheriff Schmaling and his team have the resources they need to protect our residents,” Delagrave said.
County employee benefits
Included in the proposed 2019 county budget, are pay increases for emergency 911 dispatchers.
“Our dispatchers are our front-line employees,” Delagrave said. “They really are deciding, oftentimes, response rates to emergency situations in our community. I believe that we want talented dispatchers.”
The county also is exploring other benefits for its employees, such as flexible schedules, on-site day care, increased training opportunities and health and wellness initiatives.
“We’ve heard from some of our employees that on-site child care would be a great thing; that wellness initiatives, more than what we have, is something that they’re interested in,” Delagrave said. “We may not be able to pay our employees the highest, but we also believe there are other things that can make us a workplace that people want to be employed at.”
Road work freeze
While it may seem those orange highway barrels have become a permanent fixture in Racine County, the county does not want to add to driver’s frustrations.
“We’re not doing any road restorative projects this year (in 2019) because so many roads are closed because of I-94 and other roads due to Foxconn,” Delagrave said. “We just believe we don’t want to close more roads.”
Heads of various county departments will now take part in a workshop process as they answer questions from County Board members about the proposed budget before an official vote.
Delagrave is confident the board will approve the budget plan.
“I think this is a budget that recognizes that Racine County is in a transformative stage,” Delagrave said. “And we want to make sure we’re continuing to address the needs of our citizens. But we also recognize that there are a lot of things that are happening and we want to make sure we’re proactively addressing those as well.”
“I think this is a budget that recognizes that Racine County is in a transformative stage. And we want to make sure we’re continuing to address the needs of our citizens. But we also recognize that there are a lot of things that are happening and we want to make sure we’re proactively addressing those as well.” Jonathan Delagrave, Racine County Executive