Three City of Racine aldermanic races, for which early voting is already underway with polls to close on Tuesday, April 6, are contested.
Initially, there were supposed to be five contested races, but due to filing issues, would-be candidates in districts 9 and 11, Ricky Jarstad and Daniel Padilla, will not have their names listed on ballots.
In District 9, incumbent Trevor Jung is thus running unopposed.
In District 11, C.J. Rouse is running unopposed to replace Mary Land, who isn’t seeking re-election.
Remaining are Susan Wagner, a project manager at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, challenging District 1 Alderman Jeff Coe.
In the 5th District, incumbent Jennifer Levie is not seeking re-election.
Current Racine County Supervisor Melissa Kaprelian, who works at the Kenosha Community Health Center, is seeking to return to the Racine City Council, which she served on from 2011-2015. But she will have to defeat Nicholas Bonczkowski, a firefighter-paramedic who is seeking his first public office.
In District 13, Jason Williams, who works as a warehouse lead and is a father of eight, is seeking to unseat Natalia Taft, an associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside who aims to win her second term on the City Council.
District 1 includes the heart of Downtown Racine, includes parts of the marinas and waterfront. District 5 includes part of the north side along Lake Michigan, bordered on the west by railroad tracks west of Douglas Avenue, on the north by Melvin Avenue and English Street on the south.
District 13 is roughly bordered by 13th Street to the north, 21st Street to the south, and West Street to the east and Illinois Street to the west.
The City of Racine has struggled with its budget as costs rise and revenues remain flat. What action would you support to reduce the structural deficit or increase revenues?
BONCZKOWSKI: I believe to increase the revenues we need to bring new business into the area. Easing restrictions on business as they are currently and to allow for profitable development. To reduce the deficit i plan to look into positions that are currently held at the county level that we could pay into instead of having a separate entity. An example would be the emergency dispatch center from years past.
COE: Being a landlocked city, we face challenges that are unique and require a more focused approach on revitalization and utilization of our existing spaces and assets. You may have read about or seen some such projects taking place currently in our city. A few are: The Horlick Malted Milk site, Ajax industrial site, Zahn’s building, Festival Hall.
Developments like these, where we are cleaning up and redeveloping properties makes productive use of existing transportation, water, and utility infrastructure; increases the tax base and employment opportunities; and helps spur investment in surrounding properties.
KAPRELIAN: As the question indicates, these budgetary times are challenging, and painful choices have had to be made. Reality does not present us with quick fixes, yet a mindfulness must be constant on the continual need to remain disciplined on expenditures and accelerate the economic progress of the City and the residents. The good news is, even though we have seen fiscal tightening, Racine invested in some major revitalization projects. The support in these investments is key for economic growth. We want to perpetually focus on positioning ourselves as a hub for new business and new economies/growth.
With the right support, we can eliminate the threat of our residents having to pay more for their government or accept less in government services and benefits, and ultimately lead to more confidence in government.
TAFT: The budget difficulties stem from two major challenges. First, are the restrictions placed on cities by the state legislature in 2013 which included levy limits, expenditure constraints, and prevented local units of governments from creating new fees for services. These constraints do not allow the city to cover the costs of annual inflation and thus create an annual structural deficit. Secondly, we are landlocked and can’t grow our borders like many other communities. If we can’t grow our tax base through land expansion, the only way to grow our tax base under current rules is through net new construction. This is why we’ve seen an increased focus on development. To that end, we’ve restructured our City Development department to both make it more efficient and expand capacity.
I am excited about current and future development like the new boutique hotel downtown, the completed Gold Medal Lofts, the complete first of two buildings at the Ajax site, and the redevelopment of the Horlick site. We also will continue to advocate at the state level to lift the restrictions placed on us. Additionally, we must ask the state to send us back our fair share of shared revenue, which comes from the state sales tax, from the state to help us account for rising costs. I will continue to vote for budgets that cut costs as responsibly and equitably as possible, while maintaining services for our residents.
WAGNER: Because the 2021 approved budget still is not publicly available, it is difficult to give specifics to a plan to approach the deficit, but the increasing property taxes and increasing “fees” to residents needs to stop. City Administration must find ways to live within a budget and stick to it. The pockets of the people are tapped out. One consideration is evaluating the increased headcount at City Hall to determine if those positions, particularly ones created in the last few years, justify the increased expense.
WILLIAMS: Timely release of the 350+ page budget & greater input from the community and council before the final vote on the Mayor’s budget.
What is an issue in Racine that does not get enough attention? Why do you think this issue is so important?
BONCZKOWSKI: An issue I believe that does not get addressed is the benefits and care of the people providing the safety for all of the citizens of Racine. We are losing applicants because comparable cities offer so much better than we do. In my opinion, it’s not because we cannot offer it, but that our current administration does not want to.
COE: Projects like the ones listed in the earlier question do not seem to be widespread knowledge amongst the residents of Racine. Along with rehabbed homes in the inner city that are back on the tax roll with first time home buyers. Not getting the word out on positive efforts like these, can leave constituents feeling like their government is stagnant. I think striving to improve communications will make for a well-informed constituent who will feel engaged and involved. This is an important goal for effective, productive government. The city’s communication efforts, I believe, requires earnest, respectful, and continued attention to widespread messaging.
KAPRELIAN: Questions like the one presented earlier on deficit and revenue are important in governmental conversations, however there is another piece that often gets missed when looking at local government roles and focus. It is the importance of deepening our sense of humanity.
People need to feel their value, especially when they are behind the dollars that are meant to serve them. Lack of focus in humanity unfolds in many ways such as in cultural and societal tones — civil and social unrest — municipal lawsuits, population decline, negative environmental and climate impact, crime, or the lack of investing in local small business, etc.
Racine cannot just feel like it is for some, it needs to feel like it is for all.
As government leaders we need to be present, involved, and foster relationships to solidify the importance of the people in this community, as well as model for others to do the same. Addressing things such as disparities, business support, and deficits become easier when you, obviously, have buy in. You get buy-in when individuals trust your intentions. A deeper sense of humanity gives our citizens a sense importance to not look elsewhere to feel they belong, and gives opportunities to engage, get involved, and connect with others so we can all rise together.
TAFT: I think there are a number of really positive things that the City is doing that don’t get enough attention. Two areas that spring to mind are education and housing. The City’s partnership with the YWCA, Gateway Technical College, RUSD, and Higher Expectations has had great success helping our residents who were not able to complete their high school degrees get their high school equivalency diplomas. That program has scaled up significantly in the last couple of years, we are helping about 250 new residents a year gain this credential which is needed to access higher wages, other technical training, or to continue their education. On the housing front, there are so many positive things the city is doing. We’ve partnered with Housing Resources Incorporated and created the new Financial Empowerment Center to help get city residents on a path to successful home ownership. We also have a number of grant programs to help residents repair their homes and help lift property values throughout the city. We have allocated funds to help with rental assistance and mortgage payment for residents who have been economically impacted by the pandemic. The City has made housing access and affordability a huge priority in my time on Council and I know that our City staff will work hard to capture any federal dollars that are available for helping City residents struggling due to the pandemic.
WAGNER: The lack of governmental transparency has started to gain some momentum, but it really needs to be addressed head on. The elimination of CAR25 and then ignoring it’s approved return for well over a year, not providing a thorough, easy to understand city website, the lack of intuitive navigation of Legistar, the refusal of the city to provide financial information on the website accessible to the people, this is all one big failure on the part of the city. The people deserve easily accessible material, and the time has come to demand transparency of information. I look at the websites of surrounding communities, including Sturtevant, Kenosha, Lake Geneva, they are thorough and easy to navigate. I want to advocate for immediate improvement of communication for the people.
WILLIAMS: Administrative and legal issues. We have fewer firemen and fewer police, but more aides in City Hall.
What initiative would you support for improving the Main Street business district?
BONCZKOWSKI: I would support any initiative with sounds backing that is fiscally responsible and improves the city.
COE: I supported, and will continue to support, the Racine City Council’s full adoption of the downtown “Public Realm, Monument Square and Parking Study”, from May of last year. This was prepared and recommended by the Toole Design Group. Three important components to this study: 1. Traffic Calming/Street Redesign; 2. Parking; and, 3. The Redesign of Monument Square. Again, as mentioned earlier we have two new hotels coming soon to downtown that will be welcome developments, bringing new people into our beautiful city.
KAPRELIAN: Even though the 5th District is not Downtown, this question recognizes that downtowns are especially important to cities, and it extends across all districts. Racine has spent and invested in research in the Downtown area. The most recent of these studies was the Public Realm, Monument Square and Parking Study, adopted by the city council. Supporting and working through the guidance and recommendations will help to show the investment was well spent.
TAFT: This past year, the city gave out one million dollars to help city small businesses with pandemic-related challenges. Looking forward, in the next year or two, there will be increased availability of federal resources to help businesses stabilize and recover. As a city, we need to make sure we connect our businesses with these resources. Our city staff have been and will continue to be instrumental in finding and facilitating federal grants and other innovative programs to help our community thrive. Finally, there was a lot of work done recently by a consulting firm to help us re-imagine the downtown to showcase our businesses and easier for folks to enjoy and navigate. This included making one way streets two way, slowing down traffic, and making our streets more bike and pedestrian friendly. The Common Council adopted this plan formally, and we look to implement that plan in phases over the years to come.
WAGNER: I look forward to the opportunity to sit down with the merchants of our downtown as well as the Downtown Racine Corporation to hear their ideas, as they have specific expertise in what works in Racine. Additionally, from my observation of committee and council meetings, it is obvious to me there is no clear roadmap for people interested in establishing a business in Racine. It is important to document the steps and streamline those processes, remove as many obstacles as possible, and ensure all people are treated equitably to achieve their desires to open businesses in Racine. A more active liaison between the Downtown Racine Corporation and interested residents to make them aware of available resources may go a long way in improving the business landscape of downtown Racine.
WILLIAMS: Holding meetings with main street business owners to discuss lowering regulatory issues and bureaucratic problems they may be facing and developing common sense solutions to the issues.(tncms-asset)51bcf442-47b3-11eb-b530-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)