October 19, 2009
Budget notes: An ulterior motive to the North Beach walkway
Pete has a good overall write-up about the budget here. Here's some notes from Mayor John Dickert's budget address Monday night in the City Council chambers:
* While taxes would go up under Dickert's budget, spending went down an estimated $683,000, Dickert said. City staff went through the budget "line by line" to come up with the savings, he said. The savings got the attention of one alderman who said, off the record, they were interested to read the budget to see how it was possible to cut spending that much. There was a skeptical tone in their voice.
* The bulk of the savings appear to be zero-increase contracts with the city's labor unions. Those deals went a long way toward preventing layoffs and reducing spending, Dickert said. One slide during Dickert's presentation showed salary and fringe benefits make up 76 percent of the city's budget.
* One of the showcase items in the budget - a new walkway across North Beach - has an ulterior motive, Dickert said. The walkway itself is a rubberized modular path made from recycled tires. Terrewalks, of Fountain City, Calif., manufactures the "Rubbersidewalks," which the city hopes to buy for $46,500. Along with the walkway, Dickert hopes to lure Terrewalks to Racine. The California-based company doesn't have a Midwest presence. Dickert said he's been talking with the company for the last three months about opening a new office in Racine.
* Speaking of that walkway, the plan is to use the Rubbersidewalks across the beach and then a retractable walkway into the water. It may be the first walkway of its kind on the Great Lakes, Dickert said. (Anyone who's tried to haul kids, coolers, beach towels, etc. across North Beach understands why this is a good idea. Maybe a little pricey, but good.)
* Former Mayor Gary Becker tried to increase recycling in the city by proposing to give a recycling bin to every home in Racine. That idea was rejected as too expensive. A few years later, it's a necessity, Dickert said. The city is planning to save $150,000 next year by increasing recycling and reducing the amount of money it spends on "tipping fees" set by the state. That means it will cost the city more to send garbage to the landfill. It's a lot cheaper to recycle, Dickert noted, so the recycling program is environmentally and fiscally responsible.
"I'm making a big push to increase recycling," Dickert said.
* Dickert said he didn't know where his proposed splashpad would be located, but he narrowed down the choices. He wants to keep it in the Riverview area (basically the inner city) and it will probably need to be tied to a community center. One thing is for certain: the Laurel Clark fountain will be shut down as a splashpad, Dickert said. The fountain, which will remain a fountain, wasn't built to handle chlorine and it's costing tens of thousands of dollars a year to maintain. (Click here for background on the fountain issue.)
* Dickert also isn't saying where he hopes to locate the three new community police officers provided by stimulus money. The stimulus cash covers three officers for three years, but requires the city to pickup a fourth year with cutting other positions. This year's budget includes money to cover part of the fourth year, Dickert said.
* Despite being his first city budget, Dickert said he didn't have any trouble with the process. He said working with state and federal budgets for two decades prepared him for the city's spending plan. Dickert said the mark he tried to leave on this budget was to get all department heads looking 10 years into the future. "We're not talking about next year," he said, "we're looking at how to save money over the long range."
* While not in the budget, Dickert reasserted his support for building a new senior center in Racine. He's looking for a building that will house health, education and entertainment services in one space. He cited Kenosha and Fox Valley communities as positive examples he'd like to follow.