October 22, 2010

Madrigranos give $100,000 to Gateway sustainable living program

Joseph Madrigrano Jr. and his wife, Kathy, have donated $100,000 to Gateway Technical College Foundation Inc. for programming at the new Center for Sustainable Living.

      The $100,000 was donated to the foundation Wednesday,  the official opening of the center on Gateway’s Kenosha Campus, 3520-30th Ave. The donation is to establish an endowment to support youth education programs.

      “This donation represents the continued commitment that my wife and I have to education in the city of Kenosha,” said Madrigrano. “We already have a foundation scholarship in place at Gateway Technical College, and this donation will further help the youth in our community through environmental education and career training offered at Gateway.”

      Madrigrano, a partner in the law firm Madrigrano, Aiello & Santarelli, LLC., said, "I have been looking at greening up my own home, and found out about the projects and training  being developed at the center and how it will benefit youth and the Kenosha community. I was impressed.”

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New C.O.P. House opens on Oct. 26

The Racine Police Department will open its newest neighborhood Community Policing House -- commonly referred to as a C.O.P. house -- on Tuesday, Oct. 26, at 4 p.m.

The new house is located at 1900 16th St., the northwest corner of 16th and Phillips Avenue. There will be a short ceremony followed by refreshments and an opportunity to tour the facility. This is the department's sixth C.O.P. house.

The renovation of this building began in May 2010, by Racine Community Outpost, the Racine Police Department, local businesses, private contractors and individuals. Begun in 1993, the C.O.P. house program is a tool to fight crime and improve the quality of life in troublesome neighborhoods. An officer is assigned to a C.O.P. house for several years and is dedicated to the neighborhood.

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Jefferson Lighthouse enters BING's $100,000 contest

Student narrates Jefferson Lighthouse's video entry in BING! competition

UPDATE, Oct. 29: OK, everyone, it's time to go back to Google. The finalists in BING!'s competition have been announced... and, sadly, the closest to us is Aquinas High School in LaCrosse. You can go here to see them all and vote, but no money will be coming to Racine, alas.

Original post:

Kathy Holley sent us the following note:
Well, we've had Pepsi Refresh and Kohl's, now here's the next online contest to make schools across the country compete for funds.  This one is sponsored by Bing and is called "Our School Needs..."

Schools submit and essay, photos, and an optional video illustrating what they need.  Guests to the site rate the entries.  The highest rated entries move on to the next round of voting.

Jefferson Lighthouse has submitted an entry, complete with a video produced by a parent and a teacher, featuring many of the school's kids.  You can see it here!

The teacher at Jefferson spearheading this effort is art teacher Julia Kopp.  The parent who produced the video and wrote the music for it is Richard Sosa.

Of course, any publicity would be welcome!  Better still would be a time in the future when schools didn't have to jump through corporate hoops in hopes of getting money for what they need.... sigh.
Sigh, indeed! What's our world coming to? Everytime Racine Unified announces a referendum, the cynics and naysayers come out of the woodwork. Of course, it doesn't help that the powers-that-be find ways around referenda to finance an administrative center... while still fine-tuning a potential $78 million school improvement/new building package ill-timed for an economic recession. (But if not now, when?)

So we must depend upon the charity of others. Mitchell Middle School was the first in Racine to get onto the contest bandwagon, winning $50,000 from the Pepsi Refresh project for classroom renovation. Alas, lightning didn't strike twice: when science teacher Kim Wendt tried to double-down, in a $500,000 contest from Kohl's, the school initially held its own, only to be overwhelmed (along with an entry from Knapp School) by schools that went so far as to offer iPads as vote-for-me prizes.

Now we have Jefferson Lighthouse Elementary School attempting to win $100,000 from Bing!, the search engine from Microsoft trying to unseat Google. (There's always an ulterior motive in these contests, donchaknow?) Bing! is offering $250,000 -- three $50,000 prizes and a grand prize of $100,000: "We want to hear from teachers and students about what their school needs most. Look around your school and think about how it would benefit from winning $100,000."

Yeah, like finding what's needed is hard at a school dating from 1899. (And, no, Jefferson is not RUSD's oldest school.) As Jefferson Lighthouse's essay points out, when it comes to technology "we're a few sandwiches short of a picnic."  The school's clever video will break your heart.

Oct. 26 is the last day voters can rate entries; already there are close to 400. If Jefferson makes the finalist cut, through viewer ratings, Nov. 5 is final day of voting. Winners, chosen by a panel of judges, will be announced on Nov. 9.

Again, here's where to go to rate Jefferson Lighthouse's entry, and share it via Facebook and Twitter.

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Be a Santa to a Senior lifts holiday spirits

Be a Santa to a Senior, the campaign that last year delivered more than 420 gifts to local needy seniors, is being planned again this year during a time when seniors may need more of the bare necessities to survive. 

The area office of the Home Instead Senior Care has joined with local senior care agencies and area retailers to provide presents to seniors who otherwise might not receive a gift this holiday season.

“Most people aren’t aware that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of seniors in every community who have no family and are alone,” said Victor Erato, owner of the Home Instead office serving Racine County. “What’s more, this holiday season finds many older adults struggling with the basic necessities as the economic downturn continues and Social Security fails to keep pace with daily living expenses.”

The program isn’t just about gifts, though.  It is designed to also  help stimulate human contact and social interaction for older adults who are unlikely to have guests during the holidays.

The program runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15. Prior to the holiday season, the participating local non-profit organizations identify needy and isolated seniors and provides their names to Home Instead for this program. Christmas trees, which will go up in selected stores, feature ornaments with the first names of the seniors and their respective gift requests.

Holiday shoppers can pick up an ornament, buy items on the list and return them unwrapped to the store, along with the ornament. Volunteers collect, wrap and distribute the gifts.

Ornaments are available from Central Bark, Coldwell Banker, Curves, JC’s Mufflers, Re/Max Newport Realty, Knueppel HealthCare Services, Lakeview Pharmacy, Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Sew ‘n Save and Walgreen’s Douglas Avenue and Four Mile stores).

More information is available from Christine at the Home Instead Senior Care office at 598-0290.  Businesses are encouraged to adopt groups of seniors.

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October 21, 2010

Racine NAACP celebrating its
60th annual Freedom Fund Dinner

The Racine Branch of the NAACP will celebrate the organization’s 60th Annual Freedom Fund Dinner on Friday, October 29 at the Racine Marriott Hotel, 7111 Washington Avenue. Social hour is from 5-6 p.m. and the program begins at 6:30 p.m. The theme is “One Nation, One Dream.”

Featured keynote speaker is the sensational Dr. Samuel Betances. Dr. Betances is a biracial, bicultural, and bilingual citizen of the world. He has worked in all fifty states, all six U.S. territories and in various countries including Japan, Korea, Germany and Mexico. This great motivator was not supposed to make it. Out of the bowels of inner city poverty, stigma of minority group status, violence, welfare and illiteracy in two languages, he arose. With strong spiritual convictions and a passion for reading, Samuel Betances has taken the hard lessons from the mean streets of life and reshaped them into his personal vision. Dr. Betances embarked on a journey from dropping out of school to a Doctorate from Harvard University.

Tickets are on sale at the cost of $50 per person. For ticket information, please call (262) 672-9929.

Wanggaard and Wright hold a political debate with themselves

State Senate candidate Van Wanggaard, left, and State Rep. candidate Chris Wright

Picture this: You get to Lambeau this Sunday and there's just the Packers on the field. Vikings? Nowhere to be found...  Kind of a letdown, right?

Well, it was sorta like that Wednesday night at the pre-election "Town Hall" presented by Republican candidates Van Wanggaard and Chris Wright in Sturtevant. Rather than participate in the both-sides-on-the-field-at-the-same-time contest proposed by the AAUW, Sierra Club and Community for Change, Wanggaard and Wright avoided a face-to-face meeting with their opponents in the Nov. 2 election -- Democratic incumbents State Sen. John Lehman and State Rep. Cory Mason -- and held their own forum instead. Scheduling difficulties, donchaknow. (Wright and Mason did appear together before about 20 members of Rotary West on Monday.)

As it began, even Wanggaard could feel the letdown. Looking out at the nine people in the audience (five of them his wife and daughter and three campaign aides) he could only lament the apparent ineffectiveness of the 1,000 postcards he'd mailed to prospective voters. By the end of the evening there were 23 in attendance (although that number included some of his colleagues on the County Board, including County Executive Bill McReynolds, and some of Wright's fellow Sturtevant supervisors).

Nonetheless, the two candidates took questions from me and the audience, and gave clear answers. All that was lacking, of course, was the response and presumably opposing viewpoints  their opponents in the upcoming contest could have provided -- and now will have to offer at the forum Wanggaard and Wright are going to skip on Oct. 28, 7 p.m., at Gateway Technical College.

Some of the issues discussed in the two-hour session included:

KRM: Wanggaard said he does not support it because of the expense. "There are people who can't put food on their table (a line he would repeat throughout the night). It would need a tax to support it, and I don't agree with any new taxes." He said there are too many unanswered questions, "moving target numbers." And once you get people here, he said, "how will they get anywhere with just nine BUS routes (and usually only two people on two of them)."

COMMUTER RAIL BETWEEN MILWAUKEE AND MADISON: "This is absolutely worse than KRM," Wanggaard said. The $810 million in federal funding is "free money" he said -- "I don't believe in free money; it's coming from my back pocket."

Wright agreed with Wanggaard on both projects, saying he knocked on hundreds of doors "and only three people told me we need KRM and high-speed rail."  Residents told him "time and again" they don't want the added expense and tax burden.

"We are a republic, and I'll represent the people and their wishes," he said.

When asked how the county can bring in business when there's no effective transportation infrastructure, Wanggaard agreed "we have to improve our local transportation first." He suggested "thinking outside the box, maybe an on-call shuttle system." He wondered why Racine can't seem to keep a viable taxi in business, when other communities have more than one, and decried "these huge buses with nobody on them." He even suggested "an upscale bus that does pick-ups throughout the county" because "you're not going to see some executive making $500,000 getting on a city bus to get to SC Johnson."

Wanggaard brushed off a followup question about KRM's support from both unions and major businesses by invoking the Petak Rule: "People in Racine will not accept a sales tax." (State Sen. George Petak, as everyone no doubt remembers, was ousted after providing the Legislature's crucial 4 a.m. vote imposing a one-tenth of a percent sales tax for Miller Stadium; the sales tax proposed for KRM and regional transit was a much bigger half-percent. Had Wanggaard's opponent, John Lehman, been present, they would have been in full agreement on the sales tax issue.)

HOW DO YOU SET PRIORITIES? A questioner asked, "Given the damage that's been done by past legislatures -- fees and taxes -- how do you begin to prioritize?" Wanggaard said, "You stop the bleeding, you stop the spending." He cited the "arrogance of government" and insisted "there hasn't been accountability." He would come back to accountability a number of times. Asked if he'd support zero-based budgeting, proposed by Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker, Wanggaard said "I think so."

Wright added that lawmakers must "clearly define what specific dollars can be spent for," a reference to the "raiding" of the transportation fund by the present administration. "We have to cap our spending," Wright said, adding: "If it doesn't get someone back to work, that's got to be the top priority."

HOW WOULD YOU PROTECT SENIOR CITIZENS SO THEY DON'T LEAVE WISCONSIN? Wanggaard said, "I'd look at phasing in elimination of taxes on seniors -- sales tax and income tax. That's one of the first things I'd look at to help our seniors." Reminded by an audience member that the state already faces a $4 billion budget shortfall and asked how he would raise revenue, Wright said, "The best way to raise revenue is to get people back to work. That has to be the focus: good-paying jobs." He noted that Wisconsin's corporate income tax rate of 7.9 percent is slightly higher than that of Illinois, and far higher than Ohio's .24 percent rate. Wanggaard agreed, saying "we haven't created an environment that people want to stay here," noting that Texas has no corporate tax and no personal income tax.

When his questioner rejoined that Texas has no health care or educational system worth discussing, Wanggaard returned to his accountability argument -- "the Big A" --  insisting that Wisconsin's "state level" approach is to "throw dollars at things." He said the Dept. of Corrections has forced its workers to take furloughs -- and filled their spots with other workers earning time and one-half. "State workers are told to spend money by this week, or lose it." And he criticized such spending as $5 million on a new scoreboard "while we have people who can't put food on their table."

Reminded that fixing fraud and waste are unlikely to make up the $4 billion shortfall, Wanggaard suggested that the state will have to "push a lot of services down to the local level. Get people invested, get churches to help. Government does not do it better. Are there going to be cuts to programs? I sure there are. I don't know what they will be," he said.

Wright proposed "working to get state employees and teachers to contribute to their own pensions." The move would save the state $250 million a year, he said.

EARLY RELEASE OF INMATES FROM STATE PRISON: "I'm against it," Wanggaard said. "Just because you want to save $2." It's a tax-shift issue, he said: saving money on the state level and shifting it to the local level where the offenders will commit new crimes: "Ten to twelve burglaries before he's re-arrested" and then more costs for local jails, public defenders and prosecutors. "And all these new victims." He also criticized the "80 pardons granted by Gov. Doyle in the last year -- more than the last two governors.  I just don't understand it."

Other points: Wanggaard said the Department of Natural Resources is an "out-of-control" department. Asked whether there is "any chance of getting abortion on demand repealed," Wanggard did not appear optimistic, saying the state has had "a governor who appoints liberal judges," something that will change "when we get Scott Walker in." He added: "For me, abortion is not acceptable." Wright is also "100 percent pro-life."

Wright said that if elected he would establish regular office hours in local communities.

Van Wanggaard's website is here. 

Chris Wright's website is here.

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October 20, 2010

Mayor's budget increases city spending; Mortgage crisis dropped housing values, but taxes may still increase

The assessed value on city homes and businesses fell this year, but the decline in value won't translate into savings on people's property tax bills.

Mayor John Dickert's budget, released Tuesday night, calls for a 2.7 percent increase, or $1.2 million, in the amount of money the city raises from property taxes. But the proposed increase includes a hidden cost. The mortgage crisis and the burst housing bubble dropped Racine's residential assessed value 4.4 percent this year. So while the tax value of Racine's homes dropped $150 million this year, the mayor's budget would make up the difference by increasing the property tax rate to offset the lower values. The only way to avoid a tax rate increase would be to cut spending to offset the decline in the city's tax base.

Interestingly, and perhaps conveniently, Dickert's budget address to the City Council last night made no mention of the looming tax rate increase. City Administrator Tom Friedel told the JT that the tax rate wasn't available because the city was still waiting on assessment information from the state. While possible, this is the first time in 10 years the mayor's budget did not include mention of the property tax rate, largely because rising assessment values allowed previous mayors to cut the property tax rate.

Here's how the JT reports the missing rate in today's paper:
City officials didn't even want to hazard a guess, because it has been such a volatile year as far as assessments are concerned, Friedel said. Last year's tax rate was $10.84 per $1,000 of assessed property value. If you're trying to figure out what you'd pay in city property taxes on a $100,000, $150,000 or $200,000 home, you'll have to wait until November.
Dickert's 2011 budget calls for a $3.9 million increase in city spending, which is a 2.1 percent increase over this year. The budget includes no layoffs and no major cuts in service.

Interestingly, Dickert claimed Tuesday night that city officials held the levy increase to 1 percent, but his own numbers don't bear that out. His budget calls for a 2.7 percent increase in the levy. When JT reporter Paul Sloth asked about the discrepency, he apparently didn't get a response. Here's how he report it:
Through some modifications and getting a little smarter budgeting, Dickert said city staff was able to get that number down to 1 percent, but didn't explain where that 1 percent came from. 

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October 18, 2010

Meet Andorra, a calm border collie mix

Hello, my name is Andorra! I am a seven year old spayed female border collie mix. I arrived at the Countryside Humane Society by an owner surrender on Sept. 19.

I was rated suitable for children of all ages. I am a calm, gentle girl who loves to play with you. I am very proper, quiet and loving. Would you like to give me a new home? Come visit me.

Andorra's adoption fees include all of her vaccinations, microchip and more.

If you think you might like to adopt Andorra, visit her at Countryside. The shelter is at 2706 Chicory Rd., or call  262-554-6699.

If you cannot adopt, consider a donation for her care directly to the shelter or through Pay Pal on Countryside's website.

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Racine Uncovered broke news on homicide suspect's arrest

Local crime news website Racine Uncovered broke a big story over the weekend when they identified Wilbert Thomas as the suspect in the homicide of Sandra Teichow.

The site reported the news Saturday after learning Thomas was booked into the Racine County Jail on charges of 1st Degree Homicide and other charges. He's due in court today.

Since breaking the news, Beth at Racine Uncovered has continued to dig into Thomas' criminal past. He's been through previous competency hearings, but found to be sane. They then found a Court of Appeals ruling that freed Thomas in 1999 after the District Attorney's office was three days late in filing a petition to having him committed as a sexual predator.

In its most recent story, Racine Uncovered found that Thomas had three previous convictions for sexual assault starting in 1965 when he inappropriately touched a 9-year-old Racine girl.

Visit Racine Uncovered for more updates ... 

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County hiring joint dispatch director

Racine County is hiring a Joint Dispatch Director to oversee Racine County's new police, fire and paramedic dispatch system.

The full-time job is slated to pay between $63,000 and $91,000 per year. The civilian position was posted Oct. 14 after the Racine County Board approved a joint dispatch system that will including all of Racine County except the City of Burlington. The director will report to the County Executive.

Candidates must have a Bachelor's degree and five years of dispatch experience, including three years as a manager or supervisor. They must also acquire Emergency Number Professional certification within one year of taking the job.

Here's the duties and responsibilities listed for the job:
To be responsible for planning, directing and administering the overall operation of Racine County's joint dispatch system; including call-taking and dispatch functions for all law enforcement, fire and EMS agencies served by the system.
The joint dispatch system is expected to save local governments money, but it's unclear how much will be saved. Dispatcher contracts and other unknown expenses make it difficult to forecast savings, officials said.

The new dispatch system is scheduled to begin at the start of the year with Caledonia, Mount Pleasant, Sturtevant and the City of Racine joining throughout 2011. Work will begin with hiring a dispatch director.

To apply for the job, send your resume to: RCHumanResources@Racineco.com

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Ryan: Both parties 'planted seeds of crisis'

Rep. Paul Ryan wrote the following editorial for The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, Ore. 
Like my home state of Wisconsin, Oregon has long exuded a forward-looking spirit of optimism, rooted in our nation's timeless founding principles. Much like the early settlers of Oregon and Wisconsin, when we survey our nation's economic landscape we find ourselves at a crossroads, facing a choice of two distinct futures. Unlike our forefathers, though, we have a clear sense of what lies ahead.

Most urgently, unemployment remains unbearably high and economic growth far too low. Policymakers urgently need to advance an agenda for growth -- removing the obstacles to job creation and the paralyzing uncertainty from Washington. Both parties contributed to the current hardships -- and both parties helped plant the seeds of the crisis on the horizon: a fiscal time bomb from the explosive growth of government debt.

Stacking trillion-dollar deficits year after year, President Barack Obama's 10-year budget plan will double the debt in five years and triple it in 10. The federal government's unfunded liabilities -- government's unpaid promises -- stand at $76.4 trillion and are set to spiral further out of control each year we kick the can down the road.

The government's own experts are telling us that our health and retirement security programs -- Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- are on a path to bankruptcy unless we take action soon. In addition to overwhelming the entire federal budget, the collapse of these programs will result in painful cuts for seniors and society's most vulnerable.

Presented with these facts, the choice before us becomes clear. We can stay on our current path, allow unprecedented levels of government spending and higher taxes to crush the economy and shred the social safety net. Or, we can do what past generations of Americans have always done: work together in tackling the nation's most pressing challenges and leave the next generation with a stronger, safer and more prosperous America.

To overcome our current fiscal challenges, we need a plan -- a specific course of action to ensure the government secures the promises made to current and future generations, allow communities and individuals to grow and flourish, and guarantee America's best days are ahead, and not behind us.

In an effort to spur action on meeting this challenge, I put forward a reform plan back in 2008: "A Roadmap for America's Future" (www.americanroadmap.org). When I introduced the plan over two years ago, and reintroduced an updated version earlier this year, it was my hope to break through the political paralysis, and advance an open and honest discussion about how our nation can address its fiscal challenges.

Certified by the Congressional Budget Office, my reform plan fulfills the mission of health and retirement security, saving Medicare and Social Security; lifts the crushing burden of debt, paying off the debt completely; and restarts the engine of economic growth and limitless prosperity.

First and foremost, the Roadmap for America's Future makes no changes to Medicare and Social Security for those 55 and older. Those in and near retirement will receive the benefits that they have been promised -- this is a critical component of entitlement reform and a guarantee that we won't be able to make unless we take action now. For those younger workers, the Roadmap offers gradual, sensible reforms to ensure that future generations have access to these vital programs. My plan offers those 54 and younger the same health and retirement benefit options I enjoy as a member of Congress. The Congressional Budget Office and the programs' own actuaries have certified that the Roadmap would make Medicare and Social Security permanently solvent, averting the painful cuts from the unsustainable status quo.

Economic growth is a prerequisite to getting a grip on our federal budget. This is why my plan advances bold reforms to our anti-competitive and needlessly complex tax code. The tax reforms are designed to simplify and broaden our nation's tax base and put the United States in a position to lead, rather than follow, in the global economy. To get our economy growing again, the Roadmap would eliminate our corporate income tax -- currently the second highest in the industrial world -- and replace it with a business consumption tax, lowering the tax burden to create job opportunities and job growth.

These reforms, coupled with proposed changes to our health care system and our job training programs, show that it is not too late to deal with our economic challenges and do so in a way that preserves the promises government has made and keeps intact the ideas our nation was founded upon: liberty, opportunity and individual initiative.

Our fiscal and economic challenges offer a unique opportunity to restore our nation's prosperity. On the Oregon Trail or in the harsh Wisconsin winters, settlers did not have the option of kicking the can down the road. Each generation of Americans rose to the occasion -- and now it is our generation that must do the same.

-- Rep. Paul Ryan, ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, represents Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District.

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