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Foxconn construction

In this August 12, 2019 file photo taken from a car driving along East Frontage Road, crews work to expand Highway KR as part of the Interstate 94 construction project.

YORKVILLE — The Racine County Board has hit the pause button on funding for the expansion of Highway KR.

The county originally budgeted $2.5 million to be spent on land acquisition, utilities and some construction costs for Highway KR to be spent in 2019 and 2020.

The Highway KR expansion project, which encompasses the parts of highway from Interstate 94 to Highway 31, is related to the overall construction project for the Foxconn Technology Group development in Mount Pleasant.

For the development, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has taken the lead on road projects in the Foxconn area with municipalities like Mount Pleasant and the county following.

However, because land values have increased, county officials said the $1.25 million that was budgeted for 2019 is almost totally being used for land acquisition on two properties.

Needing more money to pay for its other responsibilities on the project, county officials went to the board to approve to borrow $4.5 million.

On Tuesday, the County Board voted, 15-3, to approve the use of $4.5 million for the project with supervisors Nick Demske, Fabi Maldonado and Melissa Kaprilian-Becker voting against the resolution.

Supervisors Q.A. Shakoor II and Tom Hincz were excused from the meeting, which proved to be pivotal in deciding if the county could bond for the project.

Because the county needs three-fourths of elected board members to approve bonding resolutions, 16 yes votes are required. With Shakoor and Hincz absent, as well as the seat vacated by Eric Hillary open, Miller asked for the bonding vote to be taken at the next board meeting.

If the bonding is approved at the next board meeting, the county could still proceed with the project. But if the bonding is not approved, there could be some legal issues.

If the board decides to wait to approve the funding, it could end up costing the county more to complete the expansion.

Debate on resolution

Before the vote, some residents urged the County Board to minimize the size of the project saying a 30-foot-wide median is too large.

Also before the vote, supervisors and county officials made their best arguments for and against the resolutions.

County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said the original total cost range from the county for the project was $6.2 million to $7.1 million.

“With all of those changes the budget still fits within our original cost estimates,” Delagrave said adding current cost estimates puts the project at $6.6 million for the county.

Demske, of Racine, who voted for the initial funding for the project, said he was conflicted with his vote on the $4.5 million.

“This was definitely a surprise to me,” Demske said. “I’m concerned and slightly confused about Kenosha’s responsibility on this project and Racine’s responsibility on this project. I know Racine is taking on the brunt of it, that much is clear … I guess I’m just shocked.”

Maldonado, also of Racine, said he would like to see more information on where Foxconn is as far as hiring.

“I don’t know where the metric are with Foxconn,” Maldonado said. “We should be seeing these numbers. I think we should be asking for transparency in the process if we’re going to be giving millions of dollars to these projects.”

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Delagrave took issue with the use of the word “giving” saying that the county is borrowing money and “Foxconn is paying us the money back and they’re paying us the money back rather quickly.”

“So this vernacular of ‘giving’ needs to be addressed under the local development agreement,” Delagrave said. “We’re borrowing. We’re getting jobs… we’re getting infrastructure out to the (Interstate), we’re getting our freeway done, we’re getting our local roads done.”

Maldonado clarified his comments after the board meeting saying he meant to say “borrowing” instead of “giving.”

“I am satisfied that we are where we should be based on the numbers and what I’ve seen,” Supervisor John Wisch said in a calm and smooth manner as not to rile any other board members.

Kaprelian-Becker of Racine opposed the resolution on environmental grounds.

“Maybe the economy for a certain time may be beneficial but if we don’t have the health of the environment, we don’t have our community,” Kaprelian-Becker said. “And we have to think about that in any project.”

Timing issue

Michael Lanzdorf, corporation counsel for the county, tried to clear up any questions about the funding stating that the estimate for the county’s total costs for Highway KR had not increased, but the $1.25 million budgeted for 2019 would not keep the project on schedule.

“What has changed is the timing,” Lanzdorf said. “In order to keep the project on schedule and minimize the impact to residents, we need to meet the utility schedule that DOT has scheduled for January 2020. In order for us to do that we need to acquire more land faster. We can’t wait for the project to progress over the course of two or three years, we need to acquire that and fulfill our contractual obligations earlier.”

Supervisor Robert Miller of Mount Pleasant tried to plead to his fellow board members who were against or on the fence on the resolution asking them to think of the jobs that have been created as a result of construction and that could come in the future.

Miller added that residents who were against parts of the Highway KR project made reasonable arguments.

“We could not please everyone, but we came to a decision and we’re moving forward on this,” Miller said. “Let’s not forget about the jobs and let’s not forget about the jobs to the central City of Racine. And I have the highest respect for supervisors Demske and Maldonado, but your areas have some of the highest unemployment in the state and we are busting our butts to reverse that and this whole project is allowing us to do that and give good jobs to those who need it the most.”

Supervisor Monte Osterman of Racine said he understands that the resolution was not an increase in funding for the project.

“We’re doing this for the first time,” Osterman said. “This is a historical development and the rest of the nation is watching what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. So to get caught off guard by timing certainly is a surprise, but it’s not a surprise to me that that sort of thing would be happening on a project of this scope.”

When the vote came through and revealed only 15 board members in favor of the $4.5 million resolution, it also revealed that those in favor were one vote short of the three-fourths majority needed to approve the bonding for the project.

“I have the highest respect for every member of this board but I’m, quite frankly, very disappointed at the vote,” Miller said. “With all the information before us, with all that’s going on, I cannot fathom how someone would not support this to support all of our efforts to bring quality jobs and quality economic development to this community.”

Lanzdorf said there were some land acquisitions authorized but in order to meet the schedule for work on utilities the county needed the bonding authorization by the end of October.

“If that does not transpire and we don’t authorize those bonds by the end of October we will have to deal with both those legal and financial implications of not cutting the checks,” Lanzdorf said.

“Let’s not forget about the jobs and let’s not forget about the jobs to the central City of Racine. And I have the highest respect for supervisors Demske and Maldonado, but your areas have some of the highest unemployment in the state and we are busting our butts to reverse that and this whole project is allowing us to do that and give good jobs to those who need it the most.” — Robert Miller, County Board supervisor from Mount Pleasant

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