July 22, 2009

McReynolds defends Human Services, laments budget at Town Hall meeting

County Executive Bill McReynolds and County Board Supervisor Pamela Zenner-Richards.

Racine County Executive Bill McReynolds doesn't know how the county will make up the $2 million hole in its 2010 budget.

"I can't answer that question right now," McReynolds said in response to a question at a town hall meeting Tuesday at the Cesar Chavez Community Center in Racine. "I have not had the budget on my desk."

But the county executive also assured the audience of seven, including one child, that county government will be OK.

"We will get through this," he said.

It's gonna be tough. The county is losing income from its investments, drops in construction and property transfers and $2 million in delinquent property taxes this year alone. The county's total unpaid tax bill is $8.5 million.

The state didn't help with its budget, McReynolds added. The recently passed budget continues a seven-year trend of shifting state spending to local governments. Next year, Racine County will have to offset at least $1.6 million in lost aid or additional costs from the state. (Read the JT story on this here.)

McReynolds said the cuts will affect county residents with mental illness.

"I don't understand why they would go after not funding people with mental illness issues," he said.

The state did raise the cap on the county's property tax levy from a 2 percent to a 3 percent increase. But in reality the increase is barely enough to cover salaries, McReynolds said.

Less state money for the county's Human Services Department comes less than a year after the department was hit with two controversies.

In one, Racine residents were found abusing the Wisconsin Shares child care program to collect tens of thousands of dollars in state aid for services they didn't deliver. In the other, 2-year-old Brian Hawes died after four reports of abuse in the home were called into the department. The state found the department's response inadequate.

Jayne Siler, of the Racine Taxpayers Association, asked McReynolds if he considered a management change (Debbie Jossart heads the department) after the incidents. McReynolds said he hadn't.

He said the Human Services Department deals with the most at-risk people in the county, and at times tragic things will happen.

"I'm sorry we can't prevent every bad thing that happens in the county," McReynolds said.

He said the county "maybe could have done a better job" at responding to the Hawes' complaints, but also said the county can't monitor every families' actions.

"You can't be with people 24 hours a day, seven days a week," McReynolds said.

On the Wisconsin Shares program, McReynolds wondered aloud why the District Attorney's office has yet to file charges despite fraud coming to light in January. He also criticized local legislators for not introducing bills to prevent future fraud.

He also pointed out the state budget stopped money to investigate child care and welfare fraud. Racine County lost its entire budget - $58,000 - to track down people abusing state systems.

Tuesday night's Town Hall meeting. Six more people came in during the meeting.

Turnout was light at the Town Hall meeting, which McReynolds said was county's 15th since 2003. County staff and County Board supervisors easily outnumbered the audience of seven (including RacinePost). Audience members were invited to ask county officials questions about anything on their mind.

One gentleman in the crowd asked about plans to extend Highway 794 south into Racine County. McReynolds said the extension, at one time called the lake arterial, probably won't happen.

"All of the right-of-ways for the arterial were given up," he said. "I don't see it as an alternative at this point."

McReynolds added that he learned about the issue Tuesday from reading RacinePost.

However, significant road construction is planned for Highway 32 (Douglas Ave.) through Racine and Caledonia, officials said. The state highway may be rebuilt in the next two years and there's talk of two new roundabouts near the intersection of Highway 31 and Highway 32.

Further north, the timetable is longer. Register of Deeds Jim Ladwig, who owns Mulligan's mini-golf on Highway 32, said the highway between 5 Mile and 6 Mile roads is scheduled to be rebuilt in 2015.

County Board Supervisor and city Alderman Jim Kaplan, whose county district includes Douglas Avenue, threw in that there's talk of rerouting Highway 32 south to Hamilton Street and using business improvement district money to upgrade the look of the highway. "It would be beneficial to this area," Kaplan said. "We could use some assistance."


  1. A budget gap of $2 million discussed at a town hall meeting attended by 7 individuals - 8 if you count the child.

    When the budget dictates a huge increase in property rates there is no one to blame but Racine County residents!

  2. Anon 10:04 - Exactly, I read all these people whining about McReynolds, but when there is a real opportunity to discuss issues face to face, where are they. If they can't even find the time to attend one of these meetings, just shut up and stay off these blogs.

  3. Dear Anonynous's

    We're at work. Maybe he should schedule these meetings in the early evening when tax payers aren't working.

  4. Anon 10:23 - if you are at work, maybe you should not be out here commenting. Furthermore he has held evening meetings in the past with the same results - not everyone works your schedule.

  5. I am sorry but the time of the meeting is STUPID. Most people who care about the budget are at work trying to make ends meet so they do not need to live off the government. GET WITH THE PROGRAM ON THIS ONE McREYNOLDS!

  6. Anon 10:45 - as I metioned previously, he has held evening meetings with the same attendance results. And are you saying only those that work 1st shift are worthy of these meetings?

  7. He's held day meetings and also night meetings. This one was at 6 p.m. So unless you work both first and second shift you shouldn't be complaining.

  8. Anon 11:08 - Exactly - people just want to whine.

  9. Remember all this information come December when your tax bills arrive. The budget issues that local government and school districts will face in the fall will be due to actions the governor and legislature did in June. It is an old game in Madison to speed through bad budgets in summer and hope the public will forget that the property taxes increases were due to State actions not local actions. Rest assured that when the property tax bills come out Lehman, Mason, Turner and Doyle won't be in the media saying this was all their fault. They will either be silent or trying to change the discussion.

    In December the long grass on the medians won't seem like that big of a deal, compared to what we will be facing by December. Don't forget that the State didn't solve the long grass issue they caused either, it was creativity at the local level.

  10. L8ManChecker7/22/2009 4:17 PM

    I think the photo showing nobody in attendance tells the story.

  11. Lehman, Mason, Turner and Doyle must go on our way to remove Obama.

  12. Gosh, I'm sorry I missed that meeting. I've been wanting to inquire why there's no impetus to clean up the roads cluttered with trash. And WHY are grass cutters allowed to mow before refuse is picked up? I think the slobs in Caledonia should get out there an hour a month and pick up the garbage that passersby and garbage trucks dump all over the place!! How embarrassing to live in a secondary dump! I hope the folks who live along 4 Mile Road read this. It's so unsightly I almost have to close my eyes to drive down it! Saw 5 paint cans thrown up on the embankment yesterday. And before anyone jumps on me, yes I DO go out and pick up litter. It urks me to live in an upper class neighborhood where residents won't lift a finger to pick up a soda/beer can. Actually, I've never made the time to attend a town hall meeting, so I'm more motivated to do it now! Thanks for your proverbial kick in the butt!

  13. The problem is State mandated items. We are forced to pay for more and more state mandated items without money from the state to cover them.

    It is wrong for them to be making these decisions in Madison for us without providing funding solutions as well.

    McReynolds has done a good job. He has to figure out how to keep the county residents happy and provide what is mandated. Too stressful for me.

  14. County Executive Bill McReynolds will hold office hours in Caledonia on Wednesday, Aug. 5.

    McReynolds will be available from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the East Side Community Center, 6156 Douglas Ave.

    I'm sure this one will be well attended, too!