Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave presented his 2017 budget with a focus on “the big picture,” which included expanding the county’s mental health services, and a turf football field and ice skating rink at Pritchard Park.
But for those who were looking for a commitment from the county to building an event center in downtown Racine, Delagrave was silent on the subject.
“I understand people want the county to move faster, but this is a big investment of the peoples’ money,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday night.
Delagrave laid out the 2017 budget at a County Board meeting held Tuesday. It includes a $900,000 increase to pay down the county’s long-term debt, $2.25 million for the football field and ice skating rink, and expanding the mental health service it provides to county residents.
“I’m grateful for the chance to highlight our common bonds tonight,” Delagrave said. “The 2017 budget is rooted in the core belief that together we can expand opportunity for all of Racine County.”
Mental Health Services To Expand
Highlighting the need for more mental health and social services, Delagrave announced his vision for a Health Recovery Campus Center. The first phase of the project includes an expansion to the county’s SAIL Crisis Stabilization program and outpatient services. In the future, the county hopes to include community partners and non-profits, house the UW-Extension Nutrition Program, and a senior center.
“Our vision is to have an inclusive, smart, and sustainable campus to wrap around services for those in need,” Delagrave said.
The expansion comes on the heels of dwindling resources for people who have mental illnesses.
Ascension — All Saints, formerly Wheaton Franiscan — has seen staff cut, a contract with temporary psychiatrists nixed, and the kids partial hospital and the Psychiatric Intensive Care (PIC) Unit closed. The unit had 54 beds for adult patients and 17 beds for adolescents and children in 2013. Now the number of beds has been reduced to 16 patients for the adult inpatient mental health unit and nine for adolescents and children. The PIC Unit had 10 beds, according to internal documents obtained by Racine County Eye.
“We are in the midst of a space-needs study of our service model and exploring the possibilities of utilizing neighboring buildings around our Taylor Avenue facility,” he said.
The expansion will not cost taxpayers more money. The county expects to pay for the expansion using dollars from the Behavioral Health Department and reserve funds from the Human Services Department to pay for the first phase.
Pritchard Park Project Outlined
An event arena and basketball weren’t on Delagrave’s mind on Tuesday night, but football, baseball, hockey and skating rinks were in the context of youth sports.
Delagrave believes that the county can capture “a significant economic impact” from tournaments and traveling leagues by building a turf mixed-use football field, four field turf baseball fields with hitting tunnels, and ice skating rinks. The project includes a Sports Hall of Fame and an all-inclusive playground.
“It is also time to invest in our youth,” he said. “The world of youth sports is changing and I think now is the time to cultivate the promise and potential of our youth by modernizing our sports and recreational facilities,” he said.
The first phase of the project would cost $2.25 million.
“I am confident the mall and neighboring businesses will benefit with additional visitors and tourists to the area,” Delagrave said.
Downtown Event Arena Not In County Budget
What the budget didn’t include: Any funding for an event center in Racine. And it’s too soon to commit to financing one until the county does more due diligence, Delagrave said.
The construction of the event center — which would be located on 3.5-acres on the southeast corner of Lake Avenue and Gas Light Drive in Racine — could be financed and paid for with tax dollars: 2/3 by city residents and 1/3 by Racine County through a.5 percent stadium tax, a Downtown Racine Arena Market and Feasibility Study suggested.
The $46 million project would come with hundreds of jobs, a possible minor league hockey team and a Milwaukee Bucks developmental franchise. The deadline the Bucks want to make their decision by: Oct. 15. But the county has invited the authors of the study to speak to the county board on Oct. 18.
“We just got the economic study on August 1,” he said. “But yes, we found out about this in early May and it wasn’t until the end of August that we got the study back and the Mayor laid out the proposal. This will be the largest investment we will make. It’s not prudent to spend taxpayer dollars without doing it. There is potential merit to this project.”
Racine Mayor John Dickert criticized Delagrave’s decision to include the Pritchard Park project.
“I am confused on why the county would spend a minimum of $2.5 million to build a park and an ice rink with no jobs attached when for $10 million they can have year-round sporting events that bring in over 800 jobs, $400 million in residual funds and nearly 400,000 people into the county for conventions, sporting events and entertainment.”
Rick Kozuback, president of International Coliseums Company and developer of the project, said that if the county doesn’t support the project, there’s potential that the city could finance the deal on its own.
“It would be a lot easier if the county would be a participant,” Kozuback said. “But I believe if the county backs out, the Mayor will has a plan and he’s determined to put this together. In fairness to the county though, I realize the importance of them wanting to understand the benefits this has to all Racine County residents…. But there is a sense of urgency.”