RACINE — Mayor Cory Mason gave his first budget address Wednesday evening, which included a reduced tax rate, police body cameras and investments in neighborhoods to make Racine the region’s “community of choice.”
Mason’s speech focused on the opportunities available because of Foxconn, which just last week announced its plans to develop Foxconn Place Racine and Wisconn Valley Innovation Center at 1 Main St in Downtown Racine.
Mason also pointed to the $110 million of redevelopment that has been announced this year in the city, saying that more development has happened in the past year than had happened in the previous 20.
“For a community that has been underappreciated for too long, our time has finally come,” said Mason. “We don’t want to miss it, and we want to make sure we are changing the community for the better for the change we want to see in Racine.”
Mason said his budget is focused on making Racine the region’s “community of choice” (a phrase Mason said was coined by 9th District Alderman Terry McCarthy) for the coming economic boom and ensuring that the coming prosperity is spread throughout the city.
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Levy and taxes
The proposed property tax levy for 2019 remains flat at $54,322,250, and the proposed tax rate would decrease by 52 cents to $16.07 per $1,000 of valuation. The owner of a $100,000 home would see a $52 reduction in property taxes.
Mason said his proposal is the biggest tax rate reduction in Racine in 10 years.
The city’s proposed total budget would be approximately $211.6 million. According to the proposed budget, which is available on the city’s website, 59 percent of the budget goes to the general fund and 31 percent to debt services.
The other 10 percent includes the Racine Public Library, the bus system and other functions such as the city cemeteries.
The 2019 proposed general fund is calculated at $82,032,499, up from the 2018 general fund which was $80,250,176. The numbers are not final until the City Council approves the proposed budget.
Investing in neighborhoods
The proposed budget would create a Division of Neighborhood Stabilization that will head several initiatives to:
- Create a grant and loan forgiveness program for city homeowners to repair their homes;
- Revive the Unified Neighborhood Inspection Team (UNIT) to respond to complaints;
- Add an additional staff person for code compliance;
- Add resources to cut tall grass and weeds on abandoned properties;
- Establish a land bank to work with the county on abandoned or foreclosed properties; and
- A traffic and parking study for Downtown.
The Board of Park, Recreation and Cultural Services will also head some initiatives to improve quality of life including:
- A new dog park in Davies Park, 1829 West Blvd.;
- Playground equipment at several parks across the city; and
- Investments in North Beach, Zoo Beach and the lakefront.
Mason said that he also wanted to make sure that development benefits are spread to all Racine residents, particularly those who were previously left behind.
For that reason, the 2019 proposed budget also includes the formation of a strategic initiatives and community partnerships position. He said it will involve “working with public, private and nonprofit sectors to develop and implement strategies to reduce inequity and increase opportunity.”
“If we believe that reducing inequity is a serious goal in our community — and I wholeheartedly believe that it is — then at least one person in City Hall should be tasked with addressing it full time,” said Mason. “Again, if there is an economic boom in the area but our gaps by income and race stay the same, or even get worse, we will have missed a critical opportunity.”
Police body cameras
The Racine Police Department will equip officers with body cameras starting at the beginning of next year.
Mason said that after the fatal shooting by police of Donte Shannon in early 2018, “the community was asking why body cameras are not in use in Racine.”
Mason commended the department and Police Chief Art Howell for doing the groundwork to implement the cameras in 2019. His budget address did not include the cost for body cameras.
Mason’s budget address announced several new initiatives including:
- Two new electric police cars;
- Funding for translators, with the goal of having someone who speaks Spanish in every city department;
- An Energy Efficiency Initiative Grant from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission for $78,000 will allow the city to examine its energy usage to create a baseline for becoming more energy efficient in the future;
- Formation of a Health Insurance Costs Committee, led by the city’s Human Resources Department to internally review the city’s health care costs and work with employees to keep those costs down;
- Creation of a division chief of professional standards to oversee and manage all Fire Department-certified emergency medical services personnel;
- A lighting study to create a process for placing and replacing streetlights; and
- Solar-powered speed signs.