Alderman Helding had this to say in a recent post on this site:
"I am not saying the uptown artist plan is perfect or the only answer. It is, however, a plan. It is an attempt to make things better. I would love to talk with anyone about an alternative or a plan that could be tried in another area. I am especially interested in ideas that go beyond "add more cops" and get into how we can make the area better instead of just dealing with the fact it is bad."
OK, I will take a shot at this. For the sake of this discussion, I will exclude the "add more cops" solution, though crime and or the perception of danger can devastate neighborhoods. Leaving aside beefed up law enforcement, I think the answer is economic development. As I see it, there are but two ways that government can stimulate economic development. The first way is to provide subsidies, tax breaks, or other advantages on some members of the community, say artists. The second way would be to provide stimulus to all members of society simultaneously in the form of tax breaks or other advantages, allowing all to keep more of their own money and make their own decisions.
It is easier to make a quick splash the first way. It probably is not too difficult to round up a million bucks or so and get something done. Politicians can then point to this million dollar building and say "see what we have done for you." And this may well help them get reelected. But the downside is that it makes smaller, seemingly inconsequential developments less likely, because those would be developers are also paying for the splashy new building and have less money to spend on their own projects.
The second way is far less sexy. Even if people have more freedom and more money after taxes, most will not have the resources to build a fancy million dollar building. But they just might fix their roof or repave their driveway or paint the garage. The problem is that a tax reducing politician can not easily point to the freshly painted garage and say "see what I did for you."
Now I have written about this before, but it would be a wonderful experiment to allow people in certain wards, or better yet, all the people in Racine, to make improvements to their properties that would not be subject to tax increases for some specified number of years. So say you add a deck to the back of your house that increases the value of your property by $10,000. Your house would be taxed as though the improvement never happened, say, for the next five years.
Unfortunately, this idea may well be illegal. I am looking into this and would hope you might as well Alderman Helding. There is something called the uniformity clause in the Wisconsin Constitution that calls for uniformity in property tax rates, though there may be exceptions permitted.
So we have uniformity in tax rates and I have to admit this sounds fair. But we most certainly do not have uniformity when it comes to cash or other advantages that are handed out to politically savvy developers. They get the handouts, you don't.
So perhaps the city of Racine could try such a program while offering the best legal justification that in house counsel is able to muster. The worst that can happen is someone challenges it and it gets shot down in court. The best that can happen is that the city would have at its disposal a development tool that might actually spur private sector development that can improve our neighborhoods.