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Crowd at Carthage College Foxconn panel

The informational session held on Wednesday was open to the public and brought together elected officials, along with professors, to discuss the potential changes the area might see once the Foxconn project is fully operational.

KENOSHA — With the Foxconn Technology Group project scheduled to break ground within the coming months, the question posed to local municipal leaders is: What does it mean to us?

On Wednesday, Carthage College hosted the second event of its series “Foxconn in Wisconsin,” and focused on the impacts of local government, geography and policy.

The informational session was open to the public and brought together elected officials, along with professors, to discuss the potential changes the area might see once the project is fully operational.

Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian told the group of about 150 people he is “thrilled to have Foxconn in Racine.”

“I think it works very well for us,” Antaramian said. “It’s 11 miles to the north, and I don’t have the risk that everyone else has to take.”

Antaramian said the City of Kenosha “cut a deal” with Kenosha County, along with local villages and towns, to expand west of Interstate 94.

“With Foxconn coming up and being built in Racine, this (new) area will become a development area,” Antaramian said.

The city plans to use the area for development for new businesses and some housing developments, but Antaramian said the state has “interesting controls on local government, which is problematic.”

Antaramian cited the expenditure restraint program, which uses growth and inflation to determine how much the city can increase its budget, and levy limits, which looks only at the growth of the city, as possible barriers to improve services.

Of those two numbers, Antaramian said the city is allowed to use only the lowest number to increase its budget, which could affect services, like police and fire, as more people move to the area.

“Under the expenditure restraint program, under the levy limits, it makes it almost impossible for me to provide the services I need to provide,” Antaramian said. “So if (Kenosha) grows too fast, even though that will give me a little bit more room (in the budget), it does not give me enough to cover the costs of new employees.”

Foxconn can be an opportunity

Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said Foxconn chose southeastern Wisconsin because of its tradition of hard working employees, and he sees a “real opportunity in front of us to improve the lives of everyone.”

“It’s really a chance to define who we are, what we are and where we’re going,” Delagrave said. “It’s a chance to improve our health care system. It’s a chance to improve our school districts, to improve their standards with our students, to get graduation rates up, to get kindergarten readiness up.”

Delagrave said the county has been working with officials in Kenosha to determine how to solve issues with transportation.

Penny Johansen of Somers came to the session with questions, but the panelists were short on answers.

“I live directly across from your construction staging area,” Johansen said. “I’m not happy about this at all, and neither is my family and neither is my neighbors, and I haven’t heard one word from anyone from Somers, as far as the officials go, as to what they’re going to do for the property values that are going to go down.”

Johansen wanted to know how tall the building Foxconn plans to build will be, but no one on the panel had an answer.

With the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources evaluating an application from the City of Racine for 7 million gallons of Lake Michigan water to be diverted to the Foxconn area per day, some had concerns about the amount that is proposed to be used and the treatment of the water being put back into the lake.

“The amount of water that’s going to be used with this project alone is far less than the water that was being used in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, when we had a lot of manufacturing plants that either left the area or went out of business,” Delagrave said. “Foxconn still has to follow the state and federal permitting (regulations) … they have to test the water every day to make sure they’re within the guidelines of the water that’s allowable to be sent back.”

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Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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