Nine of the city's 14 TIF districts are failing, "and you're paying for them every day." That's one of the reasons behind Mayor John Dickert's approach to development proposals. "I can't afford to have a TIF go belly-up," he told the Racine Taxpayers Association.
He also discussed a such diverse issues as illegal Mexican immigrants, Metra, drug houses and foreclosures, explaining how they're all part of the "firestorm" of economic issues the city must deal with -- a new reality.
Dickert promised that his long-awaited 10-year plan will be incorporated into the city budget, its direction made clearer "in my budget address next Monday." Despite the city's $1.2 million shortfall in its $83 million budget, it can't afford to cut staff, not with the existing "17.2% unemployment rate." ("Nor are the jobless just the people you think; It's people with Ph.D's, master's degrees. They come up to me every day...") One thing Dickert has done is to direct the city's procurement departments to buy locally, "and they have responded very well."
Here are some of the points the mayor made:
Illegal immigrants: "There are only so many fights I can fight." The federal government, he said, "was paying to take people who hadn't committed a crime and putting them in jail. We said, 'why not take those who are selling drugs?' I'm not going to fill my jail with illegal immigrants." In response to a questioner, Dickert agreed that "illegal immigrants are here...they're wrong. I can't have an impact on federal immigration law."
Foreclosures: Forty percent of houses for sale are in foreclosure, he said, estimating that number may grow to 70%. A questioner asked about the property tax bill faced by those of us remaining, whose houses are not being reassessed down to reflect diminished value when the identical $200,000 house next door sells for $150,000."It is a problem; there's no skirting that issue," the mayor said. But rather than lower the property tax bill of nearby houses, the answer, he said is that "we're trying to build the other ones up" -- in other words, get the assessed valuation of that sold-for-pennies foreclosure house back up to what it used to be as quickly as possible.
Development deals: Noting some failed developments -- the Family Dollar store proposed for Uptown, the Sixth Street grocery, a housing development and a music club for State Street, etc. -- a questioner said, "I'm seeing a lot of dead bodies," and Dickert was asked why there were different outcomes. The difference, he said, was that some of the desired land was for sale (West Racine, the Southside Industrial Park) and some was not (State Street). The Family Dollar store deal fell through because the developer couldn't come up with financing. The difficulty the city had finding a developer for the Washington Avenue/West Boulevard site can be traced to the three utility easements on the property, which limit what can be built where.
As for Tom Tousis' gas station and restaurant in West Racine, subject of an RDA hearing last week, Dickert said, "They just gave us the option-to-purchase documents."
City land speculation: Dickert was called out on an earlier statement that "it's not government's business to be a land speculator." When it comes to State Street -- near the proposed rail stations -- the mayor agreed the city is speculating. The two-acre site the city has taken off the market "will be worth ten-fold when the train comes in," he said, maybe half a million dollars compared to the $75,000 it could sell it for now. In addition, the city is "grabbing the three properties across the street" -- drug houses -- and will also hold them for future development.
"In the past, we've dealt irresponsibly with our land," Dickert said. It would be "fiscally irresponsible" to sell the State Street property now, without waiting to see what's going on with KRM. When the Metra does come in, those sites will be hit on my many developers."
"Everything is back on the table," Dickert said, things like joint services with Caledonia and Mt. Pleasant, elimination of police overtime, joint dispatch, squaring up the border with Mt. Pleasant. "I don't care what happened in the past." He said he keeps asking the state, "how much more bone are you going to cut off?"
"I work 12 hours a day, six days a week," the mayor said. "And it's not good enough."