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Mount Pleasant trustees Monday voted 5-2 to go along with an effort to designate portions of the City of Racine and the village as a Promise Zone.
Introduced during the 2013 State of the Union address by President Barack Obama, Promise Zones are communities in urban, rural and tribal areas with high poverty and unemployment rates where local agencies can be more easily connected with federal grant money.
Only 20 zones across the country will be named, five of which were identified last January: San Antonio, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Being named a Promise Zone would give Racine a more prominent position when applying for any of the 40-odd federal grant programs available to zone communities.
Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, and Racine County Executive Jim Ladwig are leading the local charge to apply for Promise Zone designation.
“We have good models here that are under-utilized and under-resourced,” Mason explained. “This isn’t about big or small government, this is about smart government.”
Ladwig noted that not applying could have big implications.
“The downside is nothing, but the upside is quite a bit,” he said. “I understand the feelings about the bloated federal government, but this is happening in other communities and it should be happening in ours.”
DeGroot said he believes the talent and ability to solve poverty and unemployment issues already exist here and that every other federal program to reduce poverty has failed.
“The basic question is do we need another federal poverty program?” he said. “What would help us is the federal government getting the boot off our neck.”
Gleason said he couldn’t support the idea because residents living outside the zone would not benefit and that he believes a tagline Gov. Scott Walker uses about those who want a job can have a job.
“The best way to fight poverty is to create jobs, and private industry does that,” he said.
Trustee John Hewitt disagreed, saying he understands the role private industry plays but being named a Promise Zone community would be another tool local officials could use to help improve the lives of residents.
“Sometimes I think we need to lead people to water and make them drink,” he said. “This is a tool we could use to improve the lives of a lot of people.”
Ladwig said he is supporting the Promise Zone program because 15 other communities will get the funding, and he doesn’t want Racine to miss out.
“We have the opportunity to fund the programs we want … this is not a federal mandate or the county would not be in on this,” he said. “We can become a Promise Zone or somewhere else will. We can make this work to our benefit.”