August 3, 2009
Dickert: 10-year plan will be incorporated into city budget
We sat down with Mayor John Dickert last week to hear his thoughts on how the first few months on the job are going. Here's a breakdown of the conversation:
On his 10-year plan: "We're going to incorporate it into the budget," said Dickert, who described a new budget process he hopes will focus on priorities such as improving the city's housing stock and improving its parks system.
"Instead of waiting for people to create budgets, we're meeting with them beforehand," said Dickert, who described his budget criteria with a question: "Is it working?"
If it is, Dickert said, it should be supported. If it isn't, it should be cut. All of the decisions should be made "looking long-range," said Dickert, as opposed to making short-term decisions.
"What I talked about in the campaign is what I'm doing," Dickert said.
During the campaign, Dickert said he had a "10-year plan" to make Racine a "Top 10" city.
On stimulus money for three new police officers: Dickert said it would be "irresponsible" to accept federal stimulus to hire three new police officers if there's no long-term plan to maintain the positions.
At issue is $813,000 in stimulus the city received to hire three police officers for three years. The problem is there is no money to cover the fourth year, but a requirement that the city keep those positions filled. Under federal law, the fourth year will cost the city a one-time payment of $250,000 if it accepts the stimulus money. In the fifth year the positions can be eliminated, if needed.
Dickert said staff is reviewing its short and long-term budgets to see if the city can afford the officers. He added the he called the Obama administration to ask them to "loosen the strings" on the stimulus money. "If they can loosen the strings a little bit, we can get the cops on the street," he said.
When asked why the city doesn't just take the money, hire the officers and worry about keeping the positions in three years, Dickert said that was "bad government."
"It makes sense if I was worried about getting re-elected," he said. "But I have to make the best long-term decision for the city."
On city parks: Dickert pointed to Alderman Aron Wisneski's efforts in Lockwood Park as a positive example of someone stepping forward to improve a city park. "He's making his park incredible," Dickert said. "Why aren't they always like that?"
He said the 10-year plan would include figuring out where the city should locate its parks and what services should be there. Should the city build splash pads for kids? How about a public pool?
In most cases, Dickert said he envisioned a public-private partnership, like the one used to build Kids Cove on North Beach, to make improvements.
On hiring a new public health administrator: Dickert met with a search firm last week to begin searching for Janelle Grammer's replacement. The city is also reviewing the entire department and considering if it's possible to consolidate services or make other changes, he said.
On the city's housing programs: Dickert hopes to get aggressive at revamping homes in the city. "I don't want to do two or three homes per year," he said. "We want to do 20 to 30 homes per year."
To get there, Dickert said he wants to study all of the housing programs in the city for "effectiveness and efficiency."
"We want to boost successes and move away from failures," Dickert said.
He said he also planned to re-evaluate city ordinances to take on landlords who are doing a poor job maintaining their properties.
On Tom Friedel as administrator: "He's exceeded expectations." On Friedel's first day he gave Dickert an update on the search for a new public health administrator and worked on several other local issues. "With any other new administrator I would have been driving them around and saying, 'This is Downtown,' this is 'Uptown,'" Dickert said.
Dickert defended Friedel's six-year contract, which is unusual among city, village and town administrators in Wisconsin. He said the city needed "consistency and uniformity" in the coming years, especially with another mayoral election coming up in 2011. Locking in the administrator through 2015 was one to stabilize local government, Dickert said.
"This way we're not recreating the government wheel," he said.
On his new job: "It's overwhelming. I never realized how deep it would go. I love it."
As proof, the new mayor said his blood pressure, checked recently, was 106/52. The nurse said that meant he had a stress-free job. "I told her I had the best job on the planet," Dickert said.