May 29, 2009

Committee approves $350,000 for LED street lights; Stimulus money could help city balance budget

It was a good night for Family Services of Racine Executive Director Katie Oatsvall.
She secured $50,000 in stimulus money to make her organization's building handicap accessible.

The city hopes to turn $350,000 in federal stimulus money into $700,000 in savings by replacing street lights with LED fixtures.

The seemingly mundane approval could have a big effect on the city’s bottom line. LED street lights are 45-49 percent more efficient than the We Energies fixtures throughout the city. The $350,000, plus another $300,000 in stimulus money from another source, is expected to replace about 1,300 street lights throughout the city.

The energy savings will come at a critical time. Racine is facing massive cuts in state shared revenue and unexpected bills from the state, according to city officials. In all, the city could be looking at a $1.5 million budget gap next year – a huge amount to overcome.

LED lights should help. The Community Development Committee voted to spend the $350,000 on the new lights Thursday night. The amount was actually cut by $50,000 to give Family Services of Racine money to create a handicap accessible entrance to their building.

In both cases, committee members were swayed by the direct impact the spending would have on the local economy. The LED lights would employ local electricians for several months and help the city’s bottom line in the end. The Family Services project would employ local contractors for two months and help the nonprofit serve its clients better in the future.
Claudius Adebayo, executive director of OIC of Racine County, couldn't convince the committee to give his organization $10,000 to study moving into a new building.

The committee also approved spending $72,500 to join the county’s Green Summer Jobs grant and $7,500 to the Urban League of Racine and Kenosha to help local residents seeking jobs to brush up on math skills to pass employment tests.

The green jobs programs will train 200 14- to 24-year-olds for jobs like community gardening, distributing high-energy light bulbs and replacing windows in homes. The Workforce Development Center put up $450,000 for the program, which will run June 22 to Aug. 14.

The committee’s votes Thursday came after lengthy consideration of eight proposals for use of $534,800 in stimulus money given to the city. The city’s two requests – for LED lights and the green jobs program - took up the bulk of the money. Committee members actually amended the city’s request to include the Urban League and Family Services requests.

Alderman Sandy Weidner also made a motion to give $4,000 to the Racine Literacy Council to work with people at the Workforce Development Center. Her proposal was voted down 8-3.

Weidner's proposal to give $7,500 to the Urban League passed 8-3. Yolanda Adams, president and CEO of the organization, said dozens of potential workers need a math refresher course to pass employment tests. "So many people can do the work, they just need to pass this test," she said.

Alderman David Maack proposed giving the $50,000 to Family Services. It was slightly less than the $55,000 requested by the organization, but Family Services Executive Director Katie Oatsvall said the small gap wouldn't be a problem.

In summary, the committee recommended spending $350,000 on LED streetlights, $72,500 on the green jobs program, $50,000 on Family Services handicap accessibility project and $7,500 on the Urban League's math refresher program. The CDBG money also allows for 10 percent of the funds ($53,480) to go toward program administration such as making copies, filling out paperwork.

Other proposals by Project New Life, the YMCA, Southgate Lodge No. 6 and OIC of Racine County were not given money.

The YMCA’s proposal was hurt because the written plan never made it to city staff. CEO Jeff Collen laid out a $30,500 plan to conserve energy at the building, but the proposal didn’t get much reaction from the committee. (Right: Joe Heck and Jeff Collen talk about what happened to the YMCA's request for the money.)

Collen did share the YMCA is hoping to sell its Racine building, move into another Downtown space and build a new building west of the city. When asked when the Y would like to sell its building, Collen replied: “Now, if we could.”

Debate on the CDBG stimulus money got a little heated. Alderman Aron Wisneski questioned why the city’s two proposals happened to exactly total the amount of the grant. He wanted community organizations to have a chance at the money.

Alderman Greg Helding spoke against the Family Services proposal, noting that giving $50,000 to the group cost the city $100,000 in energy savings. But when it came time to vote, Helding supported the Family Services request, which passed 8-3.

The final proposal passed the committee unanimously. It now goes to the full City Council on Tuesday. Joe Heck, assistant director of development for the city, has to get the proposal sent to the federal government by June 5.


  1. Excuse me - isn't the stimulus money supposed to create jobs?

  2. Ah yes, Claudius Adebayo, the gentleman who came all the way from Nigeria (?) to attend the UW-Stout because it is absolutely the best university in the world. I'd love to know what that $10 K study was going to examine!

    Who is getting the contract for the lighting?

  3. It's KATIE Oatsvall, not Karen, btw.

  4. 8:57 - All of the stimulus will go to create jobs. The city will hire electricians to replace the lights, Family Services is hiring a local contractor and the green jobs program is self explanatory.

    9:47 - OIC was going to use the money to hire contractors to study the interior of a building to see how much work would need to be done. It seemed like a legitimate use for the $10,000 - just not out of CDBG money.

    10:12 - Thanks.

  5. ...UW-Stout because it is absolutely the best university in the world.

    Maybe not the best, but the one that offered the most attractive tuition package to the man. Do you fault our UW System and politicians who want to share our education system and tax dollars with others? I think Mr Adebayo has produced work that more than pays back our investment. If every UW System graduate improved America as much as Mr Adebayo has we would ALL be MUCH better off.

  6. Mr Adebayo is the very best. Could use more like him.

  7. Project new life should have been funded. I am sick and tired of this council picking and choosing willy nilly programs. We have a real situation and problem in Racine. Youth are not being educated, and they are turning to gangs. Are we just going to keep ignoring it, or building bigger jails. THat doesn't work.

  8. Fed Up with Project New Life!5/29/2009 1:08 PM

    Project New Life is run by two money hungry "leaders" who take credit cards at their church services! They requested money from the city to transport kids to great america, PNL already has vans. Maybe Cohen should downsize his Mercedes Benz so his group can go.

    Their are legitimate opportunities in Racine, like 1st Choice Pre-Apprenticeship, the numerous YMCA programs and more. For as much $ Cohen brings in, he shouldn't have to be looking for tax dollars!

  9. Thank you, Dustin and Pete, for your reports on local government. This is an area where you guys shine. You provide a service to all concerned citizens.

  10. The CDBG money also allows for 10 percent of the funds ($53,480) to go toward program administration such as making copies, filling out paperwork.
    WTF, what idiots, to think that amount is reasonable?

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. Orbs-

    I oversimplify. The stimulus money comes with rigorous reporting requirements (things like how many jobs did the money create) that's going to take a lot of employee time to comply with. No doubt it's a lot of money, but it'll be used for more than just making copies.

    Also ... I tried to call the city today to nail down the number of jobs created by the streetlight retrofits. Didn't hear back today, but will follow up before Tuesday's City Council meeting.

    Thanks all for the comments.

  13. Will WE Energies have to raise their rates because of less demand?
    Wasn't the water rate increased because of this.

  14. If the City uses the nationally recognized leader in LED street light manufacturing, Racine County's very own Ruud Lighting, I would think that there will be a lot of local jobs saved or created by the City's move to LED.

  15. I have it informally from the Mayor, that hiring local electricians is an expectation of the LED lighting project. OF course he, and we, want that!

    And yes, Ruud is a national leader in LED lighting; they certainly know how to do it, and I suspect that without them, the project would not have progressed as far as it has. (Full disclosure: I have no financial or personal relation to the firm)

    I can't think of a better place to spend money with a more clear long term impact. there are (obviously) lots of competing interests for spending Stimulus (and other) money. this is high on the list.