An amendment request to remove funding for a $2.25 million sports complex project at Pritchard Park from the county budget got shot down Tuesday night by the Racine County Finance and Human Resources Committee.
Racine County Board member Melissa Becker made the amendment request, saying that while she appreciated Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave’s vision to invest in the county’s youth, she did not feel like she knew enough about the project to justify supporting it in the 2017 budget. Despite Becker’s request, all seven members voted to reject the amendment request, which means that the item will stay in the county’s 2017 budget proposal.
Delagrave told the County Board at his budget address last month that he wanted to capture “a significant economic impact” from tournaments and traveling leagues by making a number of upgrades to Pritchard Park. The project includes a turf mixed-use football field, four field turf baseball fields with hitting tunnels, ice skating rinks, a Sports Hall of Fame and an all-inclusive playground.
Delgrave said the project has been in the works for seven to eight months. The county worked with a Racine city alderman to help design the project, but it would still need final approval from the County Board as it moves through the development phases. The project would also be in collaboration with the County’s Parks Committee.
“You can say, ‘Chicken or the egg with how you lay this out and how you develop this,'” he said. “But we could go through a lot of studies and a lot of motions to spend a lot of money… and ultimately it’s not approved by the County Board. But I can assure you that we are going to lay this out with your input, the community’s input, and we’re going to do it in a very disciplined way to make sure it’s successful.”
Becker Takes Issue with Timing
The first phase of the project would cost $2.25 million and would be an enterprise fund. But for Becker, Delagrave’s vision wasn’t the issue.
“I’m asking for more time to be able to work within this vision for the Pritchard Park Center,” Becker said to the Committee. “… We have a lot of excitement from people like the Jaramillo family and his friends who came to speak before us. They stated that Racine has pretty bad rap, especially in the baseball world. I know that is an absolute truth in that statement.
“Unfortunately, our responsibility is to look past that carrot. It is not our money paying for this, it’s taxpayer money that is the weight upon my shoulders on this decision we have to make. I do not want to let the people down and we are entrusted to serve. If I were to be asked questions about this I could not be able to answer them and I would not be fulfilling my duty.”
Becker explained that she appreciated Delagrave’s vision of the project and that she could invariably vote for the project, but she just needed more time to understand the project, which is embedded in the 2017 budget and set to be voted on by the Board on Nov. 1.
“Please allow us to go through that visionary process to give us more time before asking us to move forward with this,” Becker said.
‘Here’s Something We Can Do For the Children’
Other board members — committee members and non-committee members — voiced opposition to Becker’s amendment because they support the project and see the project as a way to support county youth.
Racine County Board member Ron Molnar voiced opposition to Becker’s budget amendment and said that Delagrave’s vision for Pritchard Park demonstrated leadership.
“I have had 25 to 30 residents telling me that they are in favor of this,” Molnar said. “I haven’t had this much input from residents since the sale of Ridgewood… everyone I have spoken to has told me they are very grateful that someone has taken on this vision and finally taken leadership on an investment in our youth in this community. I strongly support the funding allocated in the budget and it should move forward.”
Committee member Janet Bernberg, who represents the 10th District, said the Pritchard Park project is different than an arena — which would have required the County to raise the sales tax — because the Pritchard Park project supports children.
“Supervisor Becker, you gave very answers to why we haven’t committed to arena, which is that we haven’t had the time to do it whereas the Pritchard Park project is very well laid out,” she said. “We’re talking about ice rinks, baseball… all of my friends with grandchildren say, ‘Oh Racine is terrible about their baseball.’ Well here’s something we can do for the children. The arena is something for the adults and whatever, and this can impact our community almost immediately.”
While the Committee rejected Becker’s budget amendment she can still bring it up again at the County Board meeting on Nov. 1.
“I need to think about whether or not I want to do that,” Becker said.