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RACINE – Mayor Cory Mason, delivering his annual State of the City address on Tuesday evening, was effusive in his praise to Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and the funding the city has received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

“This is the 16th year I have had the privilege to represent the City of Racine as a legislator or as mayor,” Mason told the Racine Common Council. “I can state unequivocally that in those 16 years, no governor in either party has done more to invest in Racine than Gov. Tony Evers.”

Mason added that ARPA, pushed through Congress by the Biden Administration last year, “is probably the most significant piece of legislation since the (1930s era) New Deal.”

“Much of our ability to capitalize on new opportunities and maintain current services only exists because of the American Rescue Plan Act, which has sent tens of millions of dollars into communities like ours to help us both bounce back from the impacts of COVID-19 and invest in the long-term economic mobility of our residents,” he said.

Among the uses for ARPA funding – administered by the city or the State of Wisconsin – were:

  • $8 million to the Community Development Authority to invest in neighborhood housing. Mason noted that five new homes, under construction on vacant lots, will be sold to city residents.
  • $15 million in state-administered ARPA funds for investment in at least 60 homes in the Lincoln-King neighborhood. The work will include new home construction on vacant lots and the renovation of existing homes.
  • A $20 million ARPA-funded grant through the State of Wisconsin for a new Racine Community Health Center and a new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center to be constructed on a vacant lot next to Julian Thomas Elementary School, 930 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
  • Creating the city’s first Equity Officer position. Equity Officer Damian Evans has now been on the job for six months will soon release the city’s initial “Workforce Equity Plan.”

“To date, between our federal, state and local government resources, as well as commitments like Ascension, we have raised more than $45 million of the $60 million needed to build the new facilities,” Mason said of the health center and the community center projects.

Private sector-funded economic development within the city is on an upswing, the mayor stated. He pointed to the former Horlick Malted Milk factory complex on Rapids Drive where Milwaukee developer Josh Jeffers & Co. have renovated two historic buildings into housing and are currently constructing two market-rate apartment buildings for a total investment of nearly $100 million.

Mason also cited the Hotel Verdant project in Downtown Racine where Dominion Properties of Milwaukee is renovating the former Zahn’s department store building into a boutique hotel. And, he gave a nod to Summit Packaging Systems LLC which is expanding its manufacturing facility at 3441 S. Memorial Drive.

GROW Racine initiatives

Mason also pointed to GROW Racine (, a collection of city-run initiatives that aim “to help our residents earn their high school degrees, start family-supporting jobs in the trades, become homeowners and repair and improve their houses.”

GROW Racine includes:

  • Two new scholarship programs, using ARPA funds, for adult city residents to earn a high school degree or complete a pre-apprenticeship program in the building trades. “We launched these scholarships in late March, and already, we (have) more than 300 city residents who have applied for these tremendous opportunities and dozens of residents who are now receiving their scholarships,” said Mason.
  • The Racine Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) helps residents learn personal finance skills. In the FEC’s 18 months, it has served 260 residents helping them reduce $322,000 in debts and increase personal savings by almost $84,000. The Racine FEC, the first of its kind in the state, received one of Gov. Tony Evers’ 2021 Financial Literacy Awards.
  • Neighborhood home repair grants of up to $10,000 for homeowners in Tax Increment District (TID) 22 and 23. “The City has never invested directly in homeowners in this way and the feedback we are receiving is that our residents are incredibly grateful for these needed resources,” said Mason.
  • The city’s first-ever Youth Employment Program provides eight weeks of summer career experience to 36 youth ages 16-24 who work alongside professionals in various City of Racine departments. The program, which wraps up this Friday (Aug. 19), has four participants who are in the process of applying for, or continuing to work for, the City of Racine, the mayor said.

Public safety addressed

“There has been perhaps no greater area of concern in the last year than the increase in gun violence and gun-related homicides we have seen here in Racine and across the country,” Mason said. “I have heard loud and clear from residents across the community who are disturbed by the increasing frequency of shots fired and the headlines of gun-related violence.

“I know that we need to do more to support our police and their efforts to work with other agencies to hold those accountable that would resort to gun violence. I also know that we need to work at getting at the root cause of these crimes and prevent them wherever we can,” he added.

Among the public safety efforts cited by the mayor were:

  • Creation of the Violent Crimes Reduction Initiative. Racine County Sheriff’s Office deputies are now partnered with Racine Police Department (RPD) investigators and Community Oriented Policing (COP) officers to executive warrants to get guns off the streets. Mason said that in September, the Initiative will provide the community “with an update on early successes, challenges and next steps.”
  • An RPD crisis response team that shows up at crime scenes or at hospitals to help de-escalate situations and prevent acts of retaliation.
  • An $800,000 state grant, directed by Gov. Evers, that is being used to fund RPD overtime, gunfire detection equipment “and to bring a public health and preventative approach to community policing,” Mason said.
  • Another $800,000 in city-designated ARPA funds that will be used to fund proposals from community partner organizations to provide services and programming to support at-risk and underserved youth.
  • The RPD’s new cadet program aimed at recent high school graduates who receive hands-on training and familiarity with the police department. “Programs like this will help us succeed at recruiting and retaining the next generation of RPD officers from our own community,” said Mason.
  • The Racine Fire Department (RFD), in partnership with the Racine Unified School District, has helped launch a fire service career pathway within the Academies of Racine. RUSD high school students will have the opportunity to intern with the RFD while earning credits toward graduation.
  • RFD this summer has partnered with the Racine County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services around improved safety at the Lake Michigan beaches.

Ongoing funding concerns

Mason sharply criticized the Republican-led Wisconsin Legislature for refusing to provide state aid to cities or to allow cities to increase tax revenue outside of what is levied on net new construction or approved by local voters via referendum.

“While we have used ARPA funds to stabilize our budgets so no further reductions in benefits or positions are required, when those one-time funds expire, we will be right back to where we were before ARPA with a budget shortfall,” he said.

Mason believes the Legislature is responsible for the problem.

It is time for Republicans to stop paying lip service to funding police; it is time for them to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk.

Mayor Cory Mason

“The state is sitting on an historically large $3 billion surplus,” he said. “Gov. Evers proposed increasing state aid 5%. Republicans removed it from the budget. It is time for Republicans to stop paying lip service to funding police; it is time for them to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk.

“The safety of our cities is as much a state concern as it is a local one. We need partners in Madison who are willing to see the value in police and fire – to give police and firefighters the benefits they deserve and our residents the peace of mind of adequately-funded public safety,” said Mason. “So today, I am asking my Republican friends in the Legislature: fund the police and other vital city services.”

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Paul Holley is retired from careers in journalism, public relations and marketing but not from life. These days, he pretty much writes about what he feels like writing. You may contact him directly at:...