Racine spending $333,000 on city hall bathrooms

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by Diane Moca

RACINE -- While many communities are cutting back on projects, Racine is charging forward with a complete renovation of city hall. But the $333,000 price tag for six upgraded bathrooms has some saying, 'You've got to be kidding!'

"I think it's a lot of money, a lot," reiterated Mario Aburto of Racine.

City Administrator Thomas Friedel says the 80-year-old pipes are in danger of leaking, as they did about seven years ago -- flooding an office in the basement.

"You have to have a regular schedule of maintenance, or you will be hopelessly behind and will have a catastrophe or will have higher and higher costs," said Friedel.

As the project begins Thursday with prep for removal of asbestos, some residents wish the city would scale back the scope.

"I think it's a bit much to spend just because everyone is going without nowadays. Times are tough," noted Michael Oliver of Racine.

Aldermen say while the city is replacing corroded pipes in six washrooms, it makes sense to also eliminate the old-fashioned ventilation room between the men's and women's restrooms on each floor, and use the space to make each bathroom accessible to the disabled -- so someone in a wheelchair doesn't have to take an elevator from the third, second or first floor down to the basement.

"You have a public building. You have to make sure to make it have the amenities people need," explained Friedel.

He said the city has not received complaints about the lack of handicap stalls, making some wonder if that's money down the drain for something rarely needed.

"I'm for upkeeping the building but at a sensible cost," added Oliver.

Friedel says the council approved a $3 million reconstruction of its aging city hall in 2007.

He said this year Racine spent $699,000 to remodel the basement and modernize two bathrooms downstairs -- making them the first in the building to get handicap stalls, changing tables, automatic sinks and dryers, motion sensor lighting and wider doorways to fit wheelchairs.

But some wonder if the expense is hanging taxpayers and staff out to dry by eliminating employees.

Tom acknowledged Racine has cut positions, mainly by attrition, though it did several three pink slips.

He says that was done to balance the city's operating budget, while the money for beautifying the bathrooms comes from elsewhere.

"We sell bonds. We borrow to pay for capitol projects. This year we will borrow about $8.3 million," indicated Friedel. "Interest is low on those kinds of loans, and that's how we finance all of our capitol operations."

He said taxers do have to go up "from time to time" to cover payments.

"Property taxes could've went down. That would be a good Christmas present," suggested Oliver.

The new bathrooms are supposed to be done by April, and the rest of the city hall rehab should be finished by 2015.

If you've got an issue you'd like us to investigate, send an e-mail to dmoca@cbs58.com.

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