October 24, 2009
Time to charge up that digital camera you got last Christmas; there's a new photo op in town.
We stopped in at Sixth Street's new Raytown Roadhouse Friday night, for the inaugural run of their mechanical bull. Wanna-be cowboys of all ages and both sexes tried hard to stay mounted for the eight seconds required in the real sport of bull-riding. Each attempt was accompanied by myriad flashes of light from the ubiquitous digital and cellphone cameras everyone seems to have in pocket or purse these days.
Good news for you photographers: Because this is the Roadhouse, and not real life, there frequently was plenty of time to shoot. Pete Karas, operating the bull, usually started it bucking and spinning at barely rocking-horse speed, giving riders a chance to gain experience. But in the end -- and, yes, there's always an end -- every rider ends up getting bucked off. Providing yet another great picture! And unlike the real thing -- "the most dangerous eight seconds in sports," says Wiki -- the cowboys live to ride another day.
Penguins danced and the crowd kept a giant inflated balloon of the earth aloft, as Racine rallied for sensible stewardship of our planet's environment this afternoon in Monument Square. The rally was one of perhaps 5,200 similar events taking place in 181 countries, during an international day of climate action.
To the stirring opening fanfare of Richard Strauss' Thus spake Zarathustra (better known as the theme of the "dawn of man" sequence in Stanley Kubrik's movie, 2001, a Space Odyssey), about 150 people, mostly Racine high school students, expressed their support for a new treaty on CO2 emissions they hope will come from the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December.
The rally was marked by participation from most of the city's high schools. Students carried posters ("Go green, or go home," "No more coal" and -- this one carried by a penguin -- "Keep the ice under my feet"), and individual numbers which, when brought together, spelled out 350 -- the number of CO2 particles per million in the atmosphere that scientists consider safe, and the name of the organization behind today's activities, 350.org. The big 3 was made by students at Prairie; the 5 by Walden, the 0 by Horlick. Case High School students provided the earth balloon.
For an hour they gave festive, yet serious attention to this global issue, listening to a variety of speakers. The oldest, by far, was State Rep. Cory Mason, 36, who commended the students for taking on an issue "that sometimes feels so big there's nothing we can do." Mason pointed out that the U.S. "is the world leader in carbon emissions" -- that's not a good thing -- and said state government is working to reduce the state's carbon footprint. "We need more people like you holding us accountable."
Jeanette Morelan of Prairie School, a 14-year-old who won the Miss America's Outstanding Teen pageant this summer, said the students are "members of a national family... that dreams of making the air less polluted." She focused on "the power of one," noting that "one person generates more than 1,000 pounds of trash each year." But she also recalled Edward Everett Hale's statement, "I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something," telling the crowd, "now is the time for the next revolution.. .a revolution to save our planet."
Dakota Bowen, a junior at Walden, declared that the proposed climate treaty "is too weak," and talked about Walden students' efforts, including their creation this summer of a rain garden. "Walden is working, but we need others. Politicians and world leaders need to hear our voices and make a change."
Thomas Aviles of Walden said it is crucial "to save the most important thing in our existence -- our planet." Jamie Racine of Milwaukee, the Midwestern youth delegate to the climate conference, also spoke.
October 23, 2009
UPDATE, Oct. 24: It was business as usual at the Bank of Elmwood Saturday morning. Customers were coming and going, making deposits, withdrawals and loan payments. The only thing that was different was the number of men in suits -- bankers from Tri City National Bank -- walking around the bank lobby, reassuring customers that all is well.
Tri City, which was founded in 1963, took over Bank of Elmwood last night, and is doing what it can to make the transition smooth. "All Bank of Elmwood's employees are staying," said Tri City senior vice president John Kis. "It's very important to us when people show up they see the employees they're familiar with," added Matt Weiss, a Tri City vice president.
Kis, a banker for 36 years, noted that Tri City "doesn't have a huge presence here," but already had two branches in Racine: the one on Durand Avenue, across from Milaegers, has been open for nine years; the other, at the Pick 'n Save at Spring Street and Hwy 31 for two years. Tri City, he said, is a "strong, local, community bank," with $800 million in assets, $600 million in loans and $700 million in deposits. This is Tri City's first bank acquisition, although Kis, whose specialty is business development and commercial lending, said he had been involved in three of them: two on the acquiring side and one as a seller.
The Bank of Elmwood, founded in 1960, was closed today by the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, which appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver. To protect the depositors, the FDIC entered into a purchase agreement with Tri City National Bank, Oak Creek to assume all of the Bank of Elmwood's deposits.
This was a bad day for banks across the U.S.. When the day started there had been 99 bank failures this year; by evening, the number was up to 106, most since 1992. The Bank of Elmwood was the 105th. Although no specific reasons were cited in the FDIC notice, Bank of Elmwood was told by regulators in July to increase its capitalization, or merge with another institution by Sept. 1, but by that date no changes were announced. One of the Bank of Elmwood's more public failures was its loan for the Imaginarium children's museum, that was to occupy the former site of Zahn's Department Store on Monument Square. The bank has tried unsuccessfully to sell that building for $2.5 million for years.
Bank of Elmwood's five branches will reopen Saturday as branches of Tri City National Bank. Depositors will automatically become depositors of Tri City National Bank. A memo to that effect is posted by the drive-up window on the Durand Avenue Motor Branch, along with signs limiting individual withdrawals to $1,500.
Deposits will continue to be insured by the FDIC, said a press release from the FDIC, "so there is no need for customers to change their banking relationship to retain their deposit insurance coverage. Customers should continue to use their existing branch until Tri City National Bank can fully integrate the deposit records of Bank of Elmwood."
At the bank's main office, on Lathrop Avenue, the parking lot was full at 9:30 p.m. Workers were in both the data center and the main bank, under the watchful eyes of Racine County Sheriff's deputies, as FDIC examiners went over the books, trying to determine the exact financial numbers, according to Richard Schmalzer, FDIC's regional ombudsman.
Schmalzer said bank employees were told of the failure after close of business Friday, at 5 p.m., by FDIC personnel. Then they were introduced to executives from Tri City National. But Schmalzer said the closure and turnover has been in process for about a month, although executives at Bank of Elmwood didn't know definitively until Friday when the FDIC arrived and called employees together.
Asked what caused the failure, he cited only "out-of-market" under-performing loans.
Schmalzer also offered reassurance to depositors, saying that all deposits are fully safe, even those whose accounts are over the traditionally insured limit, which is $250,000 per account.
Over the weekend, Bank of Elmwood depositors can access their money by writing checks or using ATM or debit cards. Checks drawn on the bank will continue to be processed. Loan customers should continue to make their payments.
As of September 30, the bank had total assets of $327.4 million and total deposits of approximately $273.2 million. Tri City National Bank did not pay the FDIC a premium for the deposits. In addition to assuming all of Bank of Elmwood's deposits, Tri City National Bank agreed to purchase essentially all of the assets.
Customers who have questions can call the FDIC toll-free at 1-800-234-9027, from from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; on Sunday from noon to 6 p.m., and thereafter from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is also more information on the FDIC's website.
The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) will be $101.1 million. Tri City National Bank's acquisition of all the deposits was the "least costly" resolution for the FDIC's DIF compared to alternatives. Bank of Elmwood's failure is the first in Wisconsin this year; the last FDIC-insured institution closed in the state was The First National Bank of Blanchardville, Blanchardville, on May 9, 2003.
The FDIC has a question and answer guide for depositors here.
Madison. – It’s the 11th hour and legislation is needed now to allow Regional Transit Authorities to plan and build the transportation networks Wisconsin needs to keep its transit systems intact, create jobs, attract investors, qualify for federal funding, and advance state efforts to compete in the global economy.
That was the message delivered to the governor’s staff and lawmakers when economic development and labor leaders, mayors and transit advocates descended on the state Capitol Wednesday for a briefing during the Wisconsin Urban & Rural Transit Association Fall Legislative Day.
The briefing was part of a busy day-long schedule focusing attention on concerns that Wisconsin is moving dangerously slow and trailing other states badly in a game it can't afford to lose: creating regional transportation networks that encourage economic development, connect communities with each other, and people with jobs.
“We’re hopeful that the updated RTA proposal from Governor Doyle is a catalyst for the progress this moment demands,” said Kerry Thomas, executive director of Transit Now. “We encourge elected leaders to move an RTA plan forward quickly to allow us to stabilize transit systems in southeast Wisconsin and create the regional linkages so important to a thriving economy and the job connections we need to keep people working.”
Thomas commented after a briefing at which Dan Kanninen, legislative director for Gov. Jim Doyle, updated the group and discussed proposals that would build on earlier RTA legislation to include buses along with commuter rail in an efficient integrated truly regional system. A diverse group of over 80 mayors, organizational leaders, state legislators, and others attended the meeting that was followed by a news conference and breakout sessions that focused on economic development, jobs, and labor issues related to transit.
“A modern transit network is fundamental and essential to job growth and a sustainable economy,” said Jeff Van Koningsveld, president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 430 and co-chair of the Racine Transit Task Force at an afternoon session dedicated to job development and labor issues. He is a strong proponent of a regional transit network that includes integrated buses and the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee Commuter Rail proposal (KRM) that would link three of the state’s five largest cities and anchor a transit network that would tie Southeastern Wisconsin to the Chicago area.
“Our Racine coalition is diverse and transcends party and economic lines. We are corporate and union; small business and faith-based groups; environmental and city officials,” said Van Koningsveld. “Some would say that today’s economy is not the time to push for capital improvements to transit. The truth is we can’t afford to wait. The return on this investment is real and substantial, to the tune of billions of dollars of economic development benefits over the next two decades.
He cited a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study that estimated initial KRM start-up efforts will create nearly 4,000 jobs and spur economic development along the corridor including that would support the creation of up to 71,000 jobs over 25 years; 17,500 of them would not be realized at all without KRM.
Bill Johnson, executive director of the Urban Economic Development Association of Wisconsin (UEDA), spoke at the afternoon economic development session. He said recent transit cuts have cut off workers who do not have access to a car from 40,000 jobs, and more transit cuts are expected to cut off another 60,000 jobs in the coming years. UEDA oversees the Coalition for Advancing Transit in metro Milwaukee.
"Transit is a vital infrastructure component that builds the local and regional economy, returning many times the original investment," Johnson said. "Southeastern Wisconsin cannot afford to fall farther behind other metropolitan regions that have chosen to utilize transit investments to attract business growth and top talent."
Thomas noted that because southeast Wisconsin is a key “economic engine” of the state, transit policy there affects the economy and tax base of the entire state. “Simply put, our current transit structure can no longer support the needs of our region or our state. We are losing ground quickly and need to act now.”
The daylong event also included meetings with key legislators and a ceremony honoring two lawmakers instrumental in efforts to advance Regional Transit Authorities in Northern Wisconsin areas. State Sen. Robert Jauch and State Rep. Gary Sherman received Legislator of the Year awards from WURTA for their contributions on a budget amendment enabling the formation of an RTA in Ashland and Bayfield counties. WURTA represents 28 urban and rural bus systems, 43 shared ride taxi systems, as well as 24 associate and affiliate members in promoting the interests of public transportation in Wisconsin and how investing in transit provides long-term economic benefits in the state.
The Coalition for Advancing Transit was formed from the recommendations of the attendees at the Urban Economic Development Association’s (UEDA) Seventh Annual Summit held in Milwaukee in June 2008. The Coalition’s focus is to advance and improve transit by securing a dedicated funding source. CAT works to foster regional cooperation, political and community support for the preservation and improvement of transit. Over 190 organizational and citizen members work to expand public transit to serve residents, businesses and visitors throughout southeastern Wisconsin through outreach, education and advocacy.
The Urban Economic Development Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting economic development and housing initiatives that revitalize Wisconsin communities and to building capacity in the community development field through professional training, innovative solutions, policy advocacy and collaboration. See more about Urban Economic Development Association and Coalition for Advancing Transit at www.uedawi.org.
The Racine Transit Task Force represents over 180 organizations, individuals and business leaders in Racine County and provides transit outreach, education, and advocacy. It was created as an outcome of the efforts of a diverse group of transit advocates to collaborate to build community and political support to expand transit that will: connect workers and employers, grow jobs, spur sustainable economic development and global competitiveness, reduce the brain drain, decrease our dependence on foreign oil, and improve the quality of life in Racine County and throughout Southeastern Wisconsin.
Southeastern Wisconsin Coalition for Transit NOW (Transit NOW) is a regional non-profit organization in SE Wisconsin that was formed in 1992. Transit NOW provides outreach and education and networks with hundreds of businesses, organizations to facilitate transportation solutions that link people with jobs, spur sustainable economic development, and enhance the quality of life in SE Wisconsin. See more about Transit NOW and the Racine Transit Task Force at www.transitnow.org.
Merchants Moving and Storage - A great local company that really believes in Racine.
Feiner Plumbing - Another great local company that's supported RacinePost.com from early on.
Sebastian's - One the best restaurants in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest, right here in our backyard.
Racine Theatre Guild and their current show, The Sunshine Boys by Neil Simon
The Racine Civic Centre and this Saturday's TNA Live professional wresling show
Hop To It at DP Wigley for all of your homebrew needs.
David Hoel Photography, a local award-winning photographer available for assignments of all types.
Claudius Adebayo and OIC of Racine County, one the hardest working, most successful job-training programs in the state.
Big thanks to all for supporting RacinePost.com and just another push to RacinePost readers: If you're looking for a way to support our site, visit these advertisers and thank them for supporting local, independent media in Racine.
October 22, 2009
Happy Demisemiseptcentennial to us!
(OK, are you back from the dictionary?) Captain Gilbert Knapp established his settlement of Port Gilbert at the mouth of the Root River in November, 1834. That settlement was later named Racine, and this November marks our 175th anniversary.
You can thank Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, for digging up demisemiseptcentennial as he announced plans to introduce a legislative resolution to honor this historic milestone, and is seeking the community’s input.
“Summing up 175 years of Racine’s history is no easy task, especially since legislative resolutions are generally only 500-700 words," Mason said. "I’m looking for the community’s input: If you could list only one thing to honor about Racine, what would it be?”
Mason, a fifth-generation Racine resident, is encouraging community members to send him suggestions of what to honor in the resolution. “Think about those people, buildings, events, milestones, geography and landmarks that make Racine unique, or that marked important moments in Racine’s history. What did Racine do before anyone else? What do we currently do better than anyone else?”
Ideas should be emailed to Mason by Wednesday, Oct. 28, for possible inclusion in the legislative resolution, which he hopes to have approved by the entire legislature in the first week in November.
This Grill Must Go!!!
OIC of Racine County is trying to get rid of a brand new Ducane Gas Grill to free up classroom space. It's a full size gas grill, made of Straubelstone, so it is HEAVY. Fair market value was $980.00. Some parts may be needed. We will accept $250 for immediate removal, on a first come first served basis. Call (262) 636-3818.
October 21, 2009
Unfortunately, this year's presentation was exactly like the previous eleven: RUSD's numbers are bad, bad, bad. Worst of the ten peer districts. Again.
"I hate to sound like a broken record, year after year," said Robert Henken, president of the Public Policy Forum as he presented the all-important "outcomes" figures comparing RUSD to peer districts, to a Wingspread room full of Racine leaders, educators and the president of Gateway Technical College and the chancellor of UW-Parkside.
- Here are some of RUSD's most recent outcomes:
- Racine is worst in attendance
- Worst in dropouts.
- Dead last in all reading and math WKCE scores, 3rd grade through 10th
- There's a huge achievement gap for both African-American and Hispanic students.
- Ditto a racial gap in high school graduation rates.
Carole Johnson, former president of Gateway and director of local and community programs for the Johnson Foundation, said near the end of the program, "We need a much greater sense of urgency. It feels sort of flat-line after 12 years, and that really troubles me. We can't wait another 12 years."
Various reasons were cited, with panelists agreed that poverty is the most powerful; 58% of Unified's students qualify for free and reduced price lunch. RUSD Board Chair Bill Van Atta insisted that poverty is "a community issue that's broader than just the schools." Supt. James Shaw cited some of the district's poverty figures:
- Residents living in poverty increased from 31.8% in 1999 to 58% in 2009.
- The adjusted gross income per tax return in Racine has increased by 15.8% over the past 10 years while state income per return has increased 43.6% in the same period.
Johnson cited "the pure, chronic, intense level of stress those kids are bringing to school every day." Poverty is passed from adults to children "who do not know how to deal with that stress. Poverty is not race; poverty is poverty," she said.
Johnson was particularly eloquent on this point, rejecting the notion that RUSD's minority students are the problem. Actually, "minority" is a misnomer here these days: Unified's white students are now the minority for the first time, making up 49.4% of enrollment. African-American students comprise 27%, followed by Hispanics, 21.6% and smaller numbers of Asians and Indians. "Poor does not mean minority," she insisted, adding that Unified officials are not using "a lot of poor kids" as an excuse, either.
Nobody was particularly surprised by the results, and some found a few reasons to be hopeful. Pete Knotek, president of the Racine Education Association, said the district "has recovered" from the 2006-2007 upper management change, when Supt. Tom Hicks was pushed out. Shaw said "there are signs of improvement...signs of growth." He cited positive results at Wadewitz Elementary School, and the work of the district's two magnet high schools, Walden III and the REAL School. Johnson said one of the district's problems is the size of its three comprehensive high schools. "They're too big." REAL and Walden work, she said, because the students are "really engaged with their teachers and each other."
Another problem, cited by Van Atta, is that "we have children in the district with above-average needs, but we have below-average resources." Shaw, former superintendent at Menomonee Falls, added, "Racine needs more money than Menomonee Falls kids." He noted that Madison spends more per student, mostly to provide smaller class sizes. Knotek added that the state's school funding process is "archaic, outmoded and doesn't meet the needs of kids."
Near the end of the 90-minute presentation, the four panelists were asked what they would do with an extra 5% of funding. Here's what they said:
Van Atta: Smaller class sizes.He summed up: "We have a real chance to make improvements. The community is coming together." The next steps, he said, are to improve teaching, complete collecting data on how students are doing and what is working, and "strategic management of our human resources."
Johnson: Programs to help kids catch up.
Knotek: Smaller class sizes, and "more robust professional development," newer forms of teaching.
Shaw: Agreed with Knotek, and said: "A great teacher in front of a small class is best; next best is a great teacher in front of a large class."
The complete report is online at the Public Policy Forum's website.
"I spoke with the Racine Postmaster, Ron Farnsworth, and he said the move of the carriers is simply a rumor and he doesn’t have any plans at this time to move the carriers. The move of the Post Office to a smaller location downtown is still under review."
We almost missed this -- the U.S. Postal Service announcement online says it was released on Oct. 9 -- but it appears that no postal facilities in Southeastern Wisconsin are on the endangered list.
In fact, the only one in the state still listed among 371 "retail stations and branches that remain under consideration for possible consolidation" is in Green Bay.
That's right. Neither the main Post Office downtown nor the Post Office on 4 Mile Road in Caledonia is on the latest list. Once again, we might add: We reported the same thing on Sept. 2, when a list of 413 offices considered for consolidation was released without our Post Offices on it, but that clearly didn't reassure everyone since local Postal Workers demonstrated on Main Street on Sept. 8 to keep the office open.
The Postal Service's Oct. 8 notice says "Today's announcement updates a review process begun earlier this summer that examined approximately 3,600 stations and branches in urban and suburban areas across the country, focusing on facilities in relatively close proximity to one another, to determine where consolidations might be feasible, while maintaining customer access to postal services."
It was during that review that the Post Office on 4 Mile was listed, in July, among 677 facilities the Postal Service was considering closing. The Journal Times later reported that it was the Main Street Post Office that was in danger, although we never found any evidence of that in official sources.
In any case, here's the Postal Service's press release from Oct. 8, and here's the current endangered list.
The release does offer this caveat: "Today's announcement is part of the Station and Branch Optimization and Consolidation initiative that is currently being reviewed by the Postal Regulatory Commission. As part of this proceeding, the Postal Service has filed periodic updates identifying the retail stations and branches that remain under consideration.
"The filing does not represent a final decision on consolidation. To date, no facility-specific final decisions have been made as a result of this initiative."
No doubt, final word will be in the mail some day.
Who knew there were this many cowboy hats in Racine?
That's the first question likely to appear walking into the Raytown Roadhouse, Sixth Street's new country-western-themed bar. Jim Spodick and Pete Karas formally opened the ambitious bar, restaurant and music hall Saturday to a packed crowd.
Patrons were dressed the part, decked out in hats, boots and jeans, and acted it too. Line dancing broke out to the live music by Katie Beth (I assumed Karas and Spodick paid people to dance, but have been assured they didn't) and the drinks were flowing. The bar reportedly went through 50 cases of Miller Lite on Saturday night alone.
My wife and I ate at Raytown Roadhouse, 511 Sixth St. in Downtown Racine, a week earlier during its very soft opening. We were actually the restaurant's first-ever paying customers.
The food was great. My wife had the pork chops with sweet potatoes and I had a bacon hamburger with the onion strings. Both were reasonably priced, though I don't have the exact breakdown. Our bill, with a soda and tip, came to about $25.
Both meals were substantial and tasty. We both loved the sweet potato side and I'll re-order the burger when we go back. My wife couldn't finish the pork chops and really enjoyed them.
The rest of the big menu features steaks and sandwiches with some speciality meals mixed in. There's a handful of vegetarian items, including a veggie burger made from scratch on site.
Other notable/tasty items on the menu: deviled eggs, crab cakes, ribs and, for dessert, s'mores.
But while the restaurant is rolling - all tables were full until 8:30 p.m. Saturday night - it's the music may be the major draw. Karas and Spodick are booking live bands on Friday and Saturday night, making it arguably the largest/best country music club in southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Word got out so quickly to regional bands that they've already signed a deal with a promoter to book shows, Karas said.
Opening night featured Katie Beth and Geoff Landon and the Wolfpack. They have two more bands scheduled for this weekend. Four Lane Highway is scheduled to play Friday night and Georgia Overdrive is booked for Saturday night.
Along with good bands, they've created a sharp venue for the shows. Karas and Spodick converted the back of the building into a music hall with a decent-sized stage and plenty of room for line dancing. Karas and Spodick are making an early play for some decent country bands in southeastern Wisconsin and beyond.
As crazy as a country bar seemed on Sixth Street, Karas and Spodick may have nailed this one. Here's what Katie Beth wrote on the Raytown Roadhouse wall after playing Saturday:
We had a great time. Thanks so much for having us out! We would love to play again, you have a very unique and awesome opportunity to bring in some great acts toa great place. This is what Milwaukee has needed for a very long time. Hope to see you again and Keep ROCKING!!Karas added they're already seeing signs that the Raytown Roadhouse is bringing new people into Downtown Racine. Saturday night he estimated 75 percent of the crowd was from out of town.
That's good news for the 500 block of Sixth Street, which is fast becoming the city's entertainment district. Raytown Roadhouse, Park 6, Tango Bar and Henry & Wanda's are all nearby, and plans are underway to create the new bar Peppermint at 515 6th St. and the new restaurant Caliente in the former Timothy York's Bistro at 600 6th St.
With the street done, it looks like Sixth Street is ready to roll.
If you've been to Jose's Blue Sombrero, odds are you've seen someone getting the table-side guacamole. It's the side dish where a server mashes up avocados and other ingredients at, well, your table side. It's a great side dish that's really a "must have" with dinner.
But my wife and I, prompted by friends, tried out another make-at-your-table-in-front-of-your-eyes option at Jose's last week: table-side sangria.
This intoxicating concoction is a mix of fresh muddled lemons, limes, cherries and oranges, brandy, triple sec, vodka, red or white wine (your choice) and a secret ingredient. It's all served in a large pitcher with ice and poured into lowball glasses garnished with fruit.
So we ordered the drink and the first thing we realize is we're never going to finish the pitcher. My wife and I aren't big drinkers, and this is a big drink for two people. Four people could get toasty with one pitcher, which is about $19.
The server rolls up a cart and muddles the lemons and limes in the bottom of the pitcher. She adds ice, cherries and oranges and then starts with the booze. First brandy, then triple sec, then vodka. We then chose red wine, for no particular reason, and watched as she mixed in the "secret ingredient" from a small plastic container.
The sangria had a nice, refreshing taste that masked the potency. Two glasses into the pitcher, we slowed our drinking and our conversation down realizing we needed some time to make sure the drive home was unimpeded by police officers. Not wanting to see bar time, we left just under half of the pitcher behind.
Overall impression: this would be a great social drink. Grab some friends, order a pitcher or two and just roll with it. While I usually think of sangria as a summer drink, it was nice antidote to a chilly fall night.
My only hesitation would be the price, but it's really meant for 4-5 people. Divide that out and a pitcher gets affordable quick. The only trouble may be convincing people not to order Jose's margaritas, but switching to sangria is worth it - at least for a night.
The old Sturtevant railroad Depot is on the move.
Monday is moving day for the 1902 Milwaukee Road Depot. It's been cut into three sections, the turret and roof removed and loaded on trailers. Shortly after midnight Sunday night / Monday morning a caravan of trucks will leave the old Sturtevant railyard and -- moving at a stately 5 miles per hour along Highways H, K and 38 -- make their way to Linwood Park on 5 Mile Road where the station will be placed on a new concrete foundation.
In the spring, the work of restoration will begin as funds become available to the Caledonia Historical Society, which saved the Depot from the wrecking ball, obtaining it from the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The station will sit north of the restored 1877 Town Hall. The Society says its goal "is to restore the depot to as near its original condition as we can get. The depot is quite unique because it originally served two perpendicular main lines; thus its “L” shape. It is one of the last in the country with a turret."
The Society will hold a spaghetti dinner to raise funds for the restoration for the Depot, with a very special guest: First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt! Enjoy a home cooked meal, step back into the 1940s listening to “period” music. After dinner, Mrs. Roosevelt, as portrayed by Racine actress Jessica Michna, will give a first-person presentation about Eleanor, her formative years and her years in the White House.
The dinner will be Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m. in the Franksville United Methodist Church, 10402 Northwestern Ave. Advance sale tickets are $10 for members, $15 for non-members. Limited door sales will be available for $18. Anyone joining the Caledonia Historical Society that evening will receive a $5 discount on membership.
Call 262-758-2131 or email Michael Michna, president of the Caledonia Historical Society, for tickets.
The seemingly endless railroad overpass project that's closed the intersection of Highway 11 and Sheridan Road for the better part of 18 months is coming to an end.
Work on the Union Pacific Railroad bridge and retaining wall is scheduled to be complete next month. Crews started the $7 million project in May 2008.
Here's a couple more photos of the construction site shot last week:
We're still contemplating what to do about anonymous comments. We'd like to throw this out to readers: Should we require readers to register a username and email address to comment on stories?
From our end, we go back and forth on this. Right now we're leaning against mandatory registration. The new site will require commenters to enter a username. It also allows us to track IP addresses and block certain users from commenting, and gives readers the right to report inappropriate comments. Paired with aggressive review of comments on our end, we believe, for now, an open comment system is workable.
But we can be swayed. So what do you think? Yes or no to registration for comments? Your feedback will go a long way toward helping us make a decision. (And if you have questions, post them below and we'll respond throughout the day.)
October 20, 2009
1. Mick Burke at the JT is reporting a Chinese company is looking to build an "eco-business park" in Mount Pleasant.
2. Mayor John Dickert announced he was close to luring a company that uses recycled tires to make shingles, according to Burke. The unnamed company would bring 88 jobs to Racine.
3. Burke and WRJN's Janet Hoff also reported Tuesday about the meeting itself, which was designed to inspire and encourage local companies to act more "green." Here's the JT story, along with a sidebar on five steps toward sustainability. And WRJN's story.
New jobs and a cleaner environment ... not bad!
Page 83 of the budget shows the city expects to spend $115,045 on City Council salaries and fringe benefits in 2009. The 2010 budget includes $123,732 for the council's salaries. Looks like an $8,687 increase ... except it isn't.
The city had budgeted $126,017 for council salaries in 2009, but spent less because Alderman Tom Friedel left office, first, to become interim mayor and, second, to become city administrator. Until Alderman Kelli Stein was appointed, the city saved money by not paying a salary to the 10th District alderman.
With a full City Council, the council's actual expenditures will go up. But in terms of budgeted amounts, the mayor's 2010 budget actually cuts the City Council's budget $8,522.
Funny things can happen when you're being responsible.
That's a lesson we learned today after discovering an error in Mayor John Dickert's budget. We reported last night the city's property tax rate would increase 5.7 percent under Dickert's plan, despite only a 1.4 percent increase in the city's property tax levy.
The tax rate number jumped out at us because, well, it didn't make sense. The only reasonable explanation was the city was anticipating a drop in its total assessed value this year. In fact, the mayor's budget anticipated a 4.1 percent decrease in the city's total assessed value to $3.96 billion. (Total assessed value is a combination of residential, commercial, industrial and personal property values. In 2008, Racine's total assessed worth was $4.13 billion.)
A total drop in the city's assessed value may seem reasonable given the economy. It's certainly true homes in the city are selling for less than they're assessed at, which in theory should lead to drops in assessments. But, understandably, communities are loathe to drop assessments because that means less tax base and less money available for city departments and programs. So this year the city's total assessed value remained flat despite market forces indicating they probably should go down.
OK, back to the story. We reported the property tax rate increase last night straight out of Mayor Dickert's budget. City Administrator Tom Friedel called this morning upset the focus of our story was on the tax rate increase, and not on the $683,000 in savings included in the budget. There are two sides to every story and we agreed, after leaving the tax rate up for about 12 hours, to flip the headline around point out the savings, which seem to be legitimate.
But we also kept digging because it didn't make sense for the mayor's budget to, basically, hold the line on spending and still increase the property tax rate by about $75 on an average city home, which is assessed at $124,700.
It all became clear after talking with City Assessor Ray Anderson. We asked him why the city's total assessed value dropped some $133 million in 2009. Anderson's response: It didn't. Actually, it increased slightly.
Something didn't add up. We confirmed with the city's Finance Department that Dickert's budget included the 4.1 percent drop in assessed value. (We're pretty sure we were the one to bring it to the department's attention.) But we also learned from the city assessor there was no decline.
Then we put two-and-two together. The number was wrong. We've heard two theories on why the number is wrong. The first from Anderson was the city left out about $133 million in assessed manufacturing property in the city. The state handles assessments on manufacturing properties (that's how SC Johnson got its Administration Building and Project Honor largely exempt from property taxes), and they have yet to send over the city's 2009 number. The final number is not expected for another two weeks, Anderson said, though projections suggest Racine's manufacturing base slightly increase this year. (It is somewhat shocking, though, to see Racine's manufacturing property only valued at about $133 million, or roughly 4 percent of the city's total worth.)
The second explanation we heard was the city used property tax assessments for 2010 to set next year's budget. This makes a difference because assessments (reacting to the market) are projected to go down next year, compared to staying flat in 2009. Regardless of which, we were right. The budget's number was wrong.
The upshot of the mistake is the property tax rate is too high in the mayor's budget. Instead of $11.36 per $1,000 of assessed value, the projected rate is $10.84 per $1,000 of assessed value, or an increase of less than 1 percent. City taxes on that average city home would increase about $12.50 under Dickert's plan, or about $1 per month.
Discovering this discrepancy in the budget, we called Friedel and the mayor's office for confirmation. Out of courtesy, we held off writing a story this morning to give city officials a chance to confirm and correct the mistake.
Their response? An email from Friedel at 3:57 p.m. confirming our findings - an hour and half after the JT published a story noting the mistake we helped uncover.
Here's the message we got from Friedel (emphasis added):
Our conversation this morning accomplished at least two good things. The budget got presented from my point of view and we learned that the tax rate number was wrong. Thank you for both.We don't usually get upset competing with the JT. If they get a story before us, we link to them and often congratulate them on a job well done. (Well done, Mike!) But in this particular case we could have burned the city this morning with a headline that reads: "Hundred-million dollar error found in city budget." (OK, we still used that language. But imagine the scrambling at City Hall this morning when that headline popped up on their screens. By now it's really lost its impact.)
Communication between the budget director and the assessor on the estimated assessed value caused us to use the wrong number in our calculation. The new estimate puts the tax rate at $10.84, which makes a lot more sense. This number will not be finalized until December when the State certifies the value. We will make the correction in the budget document.
But we didn't. And we got burned. Lesson learned.
(That sounds ominous, but it's not. We have no problem with the city administrator or mayor's office. Just a little irritated as we still wait for calls to be returned.)
October 19, 2009
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.
Update: There's a question of whether we reported the wrong number out of the city budget by focusing on the tax rate versus the property tax levy, which is the amount the city will raise in property taxes next year. We'll start with arguments on why we were wrong to focus on the 5.7 percent increase in the property tax rate:
1. The city's tax levy would increase $634,077, or 1.4 percent, under Dickert's budget proposal. Historically (see chart to right; click to enlarge), this is a remarkably small increase and backs up the mayor's claims that the city found significant savings in its 2010 budget.
Reiterating Dickert's comments from Monday night, City Administrator Tom Friedel said Tuesday morning city departments went through the budget and cut nearly every line item in an effort to reduce spending. The result: $683,000 in savings. To get an idea on that number, one alderman said Monday night they weren't sure how it was possible to cut that much out of the budget without cutting jobs.
2. That's a key part of Dickert's budget. His plan calls for no city layoffs, but still only increases the property tax levy 1.4 percent (just 1.1 percent more in its general fund). In these times, that's an impressive accomplishment. "You won't find another community in southeastern Wisconsin that reduced spending the way we did," Friedel said.
2.5. On that point, Friedel noted a number of expenses outside of the city's control increased significantly this year. Overtime costs in the police department increased $600,000 because of relatively little turnover in the department this year. (Turnover saves money because veteran officers make more money than new officers. When someone retires, the department saves money by hiring a new officer.) The city also had to budget for an additional $366,000 to rent fire hydrants from the water utility. The increase was approved by the Public Safety Commission.
2.75. Friedel also said the city expects to lose significant amounts of revenue next year. The state cut shared revenue to the city city by $400,000 and the city lost $600,000 in interest payments on its savings. It also expects to lose another $300,000 on decreases on fees and permits, bringing the projected total lost revenue to $2.3 million.
3. Focusing on the tax rate is not an indication of a government's fiscal responsibility. Under state law, the city could increase its levy 3 percent this year. Instead, Dickert's plan calls for less than half of that increase. (In other words, the city could spend another $700,000 next year and pass that amount on to taxpayers. ) The fact that the projected tax rate increase is 5.7 percent belies the fact that mayor and city department heads significantly cut spending, Friedel said.
4. As proof of the lack of correlation between the tax rate and tax levy, consider two charts in the budget. One shows the city's tax rate, which basically declined from 2001 to 2009. The other shows the city's tax levy, which increased from 2001 to 2009.
5. In short, a headline that reads a 5.7 percent increase in the property tax rate doesn't portray the lengths to which the city went to control spending and hold the line on property taxes, Friedel said. Typically most news sources focus on the tax levy as the more accurate indicator of government spending.
Here's why we disagree, to a degree:
1. At issue here is the relationship between assessed property value and the city's tax levy. In recent years, the city's property tax rate went down, but people's property taxes increased. That's because the assessment on their home increased. For example, consider a fictional home assessed at $100,000 in 2007 and $125,000 in 2008. Even though city property tax rate declined 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, the homeowner's city tax bill increased $262 because their assessment increased.
2. This year is a little different. Given the collapse of the housing market and the economy's overall slump, property assessments aren't increasing much, if at all, this year. Most homes saw no increase in their 2009 property assessment, though we couldn't find one home that saw a property tax decrease. (Friedel suggested most news stories focus on tax levy instead of property tax rate, which is true. But in a year where the assessed value of most homes is flat the tax rate is a relevant comparison. In years were assessed values change [typically increase], the tax rate is misleading because it doesn't factor in the change in property value. This year, the change in property value is more of a constant.)
3. That raises the (unanswered, and technical) question: If the city held the line on spending, why would the property tax rate increase? The unknown value here is the total property value of the city, which is multiplied by the tax rate to get the levy.
In other words, if the city's project tax rate in 2010 is $11.36 per $1,000 and the proposed tax levy is $45,015,267, how much is the total value of city land? Quick math suggests it's about $3.96 billion. No doubt the number is much, much more complicate than that, but if we do the same for previous years we see the city is assuming a 4.1 percent decline in its assessed value this year compared to last. (Explained! See the explanation of the erroneous number here.)
4. So what does this have to do with the property tax rate? It raises another question: If the city significantly cuts spending, as the mayor proposes, why will many homeowners see a property tax rate increase? It's not a major increase - a home valued at $125,000 will pay $77.50 more in city property taxes under Dickert's projected budget - but it's still an increase.
5. That brings us back to the unanswered question: Where is the city losing property value? And, more interestingly, who will save money on their property taxes because of it? Hopefully, we can find out.
The big news in Mayor John Dickert's 2010 budget, released Monday night at City Hall, is found on Page 10 of its 260 pages:
The tax rate is going up.
After eight years of declines during the past decade (with only one 8-cent increase in 2004), Dickert's budget calls for an $11.36/$1,000 tax rate -- a 5.7%, 62-cent increase from this year's $10.74 rate. (Click graphic from the budget at right to enlarge.) All things being equal, that computes to an additional $62 in city property tax for every $100,000 in assessed valuation.
The levy -- the total amount to be raised -- is $45,015,267, an increase of about 1.4% from this year's $44,381,190.
Property taxes will provide 38% of the city's general fund revenue, up from 37% this year.
Total general fund expenditures will rise from $79.8 million to $82 million. Fire Department spending is flat, but Police see an increase of almost $700,000, from $27,733,007 to $28,421,846. Public Works spending goes up almost as much -- and a much higher percentage -- from $12.8 million to $13.45 million. Public Works personnel stays stable at 113.8 positions, but its capital improvements budget jumps $600,000.
Public Safety will get 56% of the budget; up from 54% in 2009. The Fire Department maintains its complement of 144. The Police Department goes from 199 to 202, with one additional Lieutenant and three more Patrolmen. The budget cuts police overtime by $100,000, from this year's $750,000. The expenditure for police salaries goes up only $150,000, but FICA and Wisconsin Retirement costs for police increase $400,000.
The city is accepting $246,551, this year's funding of a COPS Hiring Recovery Program Grant that will pay for three officers for three years with the fourth year's cost funded by the City. The city is levying taxes over the four years of the grant period "to minimize the fluctuation of tax levy in the fourth year." That amount comes to $77,586 this year.
The Parks Department budget is flat at $7,230,069, with personnel stable at 65.45 positions. But the big news is the inclusion of $330,000 in capital improvement funds to construct a Splash Pad to replace downtown's popular Laurel Clark fountain, which was not built to handle the chlorine state law now requires. The budget doesn't say where the new splash pad would be located but the mayor has mentioned Riverview, his term for the inner city. The budget also includes the addition of an "honor pay system or kiosk" for $12,500 to generate revenue from the boat launch. Funds for a mat system to provide access to the water's edge at North Beach for persons with disabilities are also proposed; the amount is $46,500. The budget includes a 2.5% increase for the Zoo and 3% more for the Wustum Museum; the total increase is $19,763.
City Administrative expenses -- the cost of the Mayor and City Administrator, City Council, City Attorney and Human Resources offices -- is increasing from $2 million to $2.1 million. One 32-hour position is being increased to fulltime; staffing will rise to 31. City Council salaries and benefits go from $115,000 to $123,700.
One area where costs are increasing substantially is Recycling. The city has budgeted $2 million in capital funds to implement a "recycling cart system." Operating expenses will go up $225,000 to $900,000 and a $10 yearly fee will be charged customers who receive recycling services.
The full budget -- warning: it's a big .pdf file -- is HERE. The Capital Improvement Plan details are HERE.
Connor Sports Flooring donated 7,000 sq. ft. of SportRoll flooring while Life Fitness provided high-tech strength equipment, including Hammer Strength and state-of-the-art cardio machines. Treadmills, exercise bikes and elliptical cross-trainers, feature iPod compatibility and USB connectivity to track workout information, a virtual trainer and workout landscape perspectives.
The donation is an extension of Life Fitness' Take the Pledge program which encourages educators and children to commit to aerobic activity. Horlick High School is the sixth recipient of the company's outreach, and the first in Wisconsin. Over the last few months, an extensive makeover was completed in the school's old gym.
The school will also receive a 10-week fitness challenge for students and faculty. The fitness program encourages students to participate in, and commit to, aerobic activity, with clearly outlined daily recommended exercises and nutrition tips, promoting progression and success. At Thursday's unveiling, Life Fitness will kick-off the challenge by leading exercise drills for more than 35 students.
Life Fitness, which distributes its equipment in more than 120 countries, is headquartered outside Chicago, in Schiller Park, IL; it's a division of Brunswick Corporation. Connor Sport Court International claims that more athletic events are played on Connor Sport Court surfaces than on any other sports flooring in the world; the company was founded in 1872.
While the facts reported in the story are true - Racine does have the highest infant mortality rate among African-Americans in the state, and the rate is higher than some Third World countries - the article fails to report positive steps the city is taking to help mothers and babies. Instead, it knocks down Racine to make Madison look better.
The article by Mary Ellen Bell highlights efforts Madison has taken since 2001 to reduce its infant mortality rate 67 percent, a remarkable decline, to be sure. To amplify this success, Bell interviews former Racine resident Ta-Shai Pendleton, who lost two babies while living here. After moving to Madison, the 21-year-old had a healthy baby. Here's an excerpt from the article:
Pendleton's experiences suggest that public health and family support services are far better in Dane County.Left out of the story is Racine's recent efforts to take the exact same steps Madison took eight years ago to reduce infant mortality. The city's Healthy Births, Healthy Outcomes program is up and running with two registered nurses helping at-risk mothers. Racine is also looking to hire a coordinator for the program in the next few months. It's a program similar to one started in Madison eight years ago.
In Racine, Pendleton says she never got a visit from a home health nurse and had no access to childbirth or parenting classes. In Madison, a public health nurse visited and phoned regularly throughout her pregnancy.
"My nurse is teaching me a lot," Pendleton told Isthmus before Za-Niah was born. "I'm doing things differently because I'm a lot more educated now. I watch movies about babies with the home nurse. I go to birthing classes. And the nurse calls me to check that I'm doing everything I'm supposed to be doing, like taking my prenatal vitamins and getting enough rest."
But instead of even hinting at Racine's efforts to reduce its infant mortality rate, the article rips the city for its "terrible" neighborhoods and suggests doctors here "don't listen." I'm no apologist; there are bad neighborhoods in Racine and no doubt some doctors don't listen. But high infant mortality rates are pretty simple. Poverty increases the risk of babies dying. Racine is one of the poorest cities in the state; Madison is one of the richest. Is there any real "medical mystery tour" here?
It's hard to fault Bell for writing a pro-Madison article for a Madison newspaper. But it would have been a more complete story to include Racine's efforts to save its babies, instead of simply using our community to make Madison look better.
The National Football League's Grassroots Grant Program would cover one-third of the $600,000 cost to install a synthetic sports turf surface. While expensive, the synthetic surface requires little ongoing maintenance, which saves money over time.
The grant requires a $200,000 match from the district. The district would raise the remaining $200,000 with community donations, according to a letter Unified Finance Officer Dave Hazen wrote to the School Board.
The NFL grants are available to "target" cities affiliated with NFL teams. Racine is listed as a target market for the Green Bay Packers along with Green Bay, La Crosse, Madison, Manitowoc, Milwaukee and Sheboygan.
The NFL grant program has given out $25 million in grants to 200 programs. Last year, Southwest High School in Green Bay received $50,000 to rebuild bleachers.