Harbor issues discussed at tonight’s debate
The Kenosha Yacht Club hosted two mayoral candidates tonight, and most of the questions dealt with the harbor dredging, harbor development, and downtown development. The Kenosha Harbor Association is made up of the Kenosha Yacht Club and the Kenosha Fishing and Conservation Group. Jesse Downing and Nasser Museitif were the only candidates present at tonight’s debate in front of a group of about 50 citizens in the upstairs room at the yacht club. Mayor Keith Bosman sent his regrets, and there was no response from candidate Jeff Baas.
Both candidates were given the opportunity to introduce themselves to the group. Downing said, “I am the best candidate for mayor and, at at the end of the night, I hope you’ll feel the same, too.” Museitif said that he was an equipment operator for the city.
1) The harbor is of concern to us boaters, businesses, fishermen. We’ve been told that there is no money in the budget for dredging. What are your views on the direction the city can take to promote and develop the harbor?
Downing: The statement that there is no money in the budget is incorrect. Last year, there was $225,000 in the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The harbor was supposed to have been dredged out last year. It was not, and we don’t know why.
Museitif: It’s all about communication. There is currently no communication. I’m a city employee; I speak on experience and fact. Administration needs to talk to people. We need one person to write grants for the city.
2) Large boats come into the harbor, come down to the end, turn around and leave. Why? There is no place to park. What can be done to further development?
Museitif: Get a study done. The corp of engineers needs to let us know what steps to take.
Downing: I just met with a group earlier today; we talked about the downtown area and the harbor. We have friends who keep their boat in Manitowoc. We travel to different ports, have lunch and shop. The question is how to get to the downtown area. Possibly, the addition of floating piers. We need to develop downtown, provide people with a straight shot. They don’t want to have to walk four blocks to get to the first shop. Having slips along the walls will work.
3) If you had unlimited money, ideas, resources, what would you do as mayor? What do you see the harbor being? What are your creative ideas?
Downing: I’d like to see it all built up down there. The Poker Run that was held here, that was promoted. I would move city hall and sell the land, and get it developed. People need a place to stay. And, it’s not just the harbor, it’s the whole downtown area. We need to find the funds for dredging. They tell us that there is no money. Waukegan got some funds.
Museitif: I wish we had endless money. I have some statistics here from the Kenosha Charter Association. In 2010, there were 896 charters, each averaging $500, for a total of $448,000. Charter captains paid $29,120 in sales tax. Money spent on hotel rooms was $228,802.56, breakfasts, $44,576; lunches and dinners, $93,744. Money spent on fuel totaled $44,755.20, on refreshments, $67,200. Fuel sales totaled $87,772.16. Money spent on fishing licenses was $62,720. Twenty percent of families stayed in hotels and shopped for a total of $73,424.51. All totaled, $1,180,114.43. Imagine what we could do with that money if we did it right.
4) We are forming a new group to try to get the private and public sectors talking and working together. The current administration doesn’t seem to be open to ideas. If you were elected mayor, how would you work with private groups?
Museitif: We must include the public and private sectors. Communication is the key.
Downing: I just attended a meeting this morning. We have all these vacant buildings. We need investments from both the public and private sectors. Racine has this; why not here in Kenosha? There is money available to invest, but we have no direction as to what is the downtown area. Is it from 75th Street to 39th Street? Last year, we had a person who wanted to invest $1.2 million. Administration said “No, fill the shops you have.” We have to be open to ideas as they come forward.
5) Do you see a difference between the downtown and the lakeshore area? The Kenosha Yacht Club is on the water, the lakeshore. Are we considered downtown? Is there a difference in funding directives?
Downing: It’s the definition we need. There are strings attached to the money. Before we know if we can get the funding, we need to get a definition of what the downtown area is exactly.
Museitif: If we’re treating the two separately, that’s wrong. Downtown is part of the lakefront. It has to be one. It shouldn’t be tied up with strings. It should be coincided and married.
Questions From the Floor
6) Who would draw the definition? The grants being written?
Museitif: The legislative body has to pass it. It would have to be done by the city.
Downing: Community Development has to say, “The downtown boundaries are x, y, and z.” The money from the federal government is tied to x, y, and z.
Who is we?
Downing: The city and City Development.
Katherine Marks: The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program addresses blighted areas. A requirement is that the money is to be used downtown.
Downing: We have to make sure that the lakefront is part of downtown.
Marks: Have we talked about the TID (Tax Incremental District)?
7) Is the $200,000 allocation accessible?
Downing: We bonded for it last year.
How do we get it?
Downing: The city decides.
Who do we need to motivate?
Downing: The alderman, Ted Ruffalo.
He’s running for re-election. He was invited here tonight, but we didn’t get a response from him. The other candidate, Christine Schwartz, had another event to attend tonight.
8) If elected mayor, where does getting the harbor updated fit into the scheme of things?
Museitif: I’d have to delegate stuff, designate someone. Katherine Marks is one of the best councilwomen we’ve had. She mentioned the TID. All property taxes go to that area, not the general fund. I’d have to look at it. Where is the money going?
Downing: Getting the harbor open is one of the priorities. It would have to come through either the Parks Department or the Public Works Department. I’d let the department heads run their departments. There is too much micromanaging going on.
9) There is no longer a Harbor Commission or a harbor master for Kenosha. There used to be a big demand. Now, not so much. Should it be staffed? And, if so, what kind of authority would the group have?
Downing: We need someone in charge of the harbor down here. I’ve been in government for 12 years. Since they started leasing out the marina areas, the harbor has become a forgotten area. I sit on the Parks Commission. Administration has other priorities.
Museitif: The harbor has become the “ugly duckling” once it started being leased out. I was a parks employee at the time. My job at that time was to take the piers out of the harbor and put them back in in the spring. Leasing out the slips was to pay for itself. They didn’t want to put in the money.
10) The two entities pay money for the slips and they pay taxes. Does that money go to the general fund or for harbor development/maintainence? With all the debris floating in the harbor, should the Parks or Public Works be cleaning that up? Private people have been working to get the debris out. Are the funds being paid to the city?
Museitif: I was a union president for the city workers. This is a big issue. The city wants to generate revenue. We’re not in business to make money; we’re here to provide services. My job now is to make compost. The city sells some, and the money goes to the general fund. The taxes should stay with the company that leased out the harbor. The city gets the lease payment, but it goes into the general fund. It doesn’t get spent with the harbor. This is one of my pet peeves. It’s never used properly.
Downing: It does go to the general fund. Possibly, the money should be used on the harbor. The city has never been approached. All of the money goes to the general fund, unless designated for a specific department, like the Parks Department. Setting up a new program shouldn’t be that difficult.
11) So, basically, who owns the lakefront? The Coast Guard, the state, the city? Who’s responsible for the harbor entrance? Who owns the water?
Downing: It’s the city’s responsibility. We need the DNR’s (Department of Natural Resources) approval to dredge.
John Fox: So, the money to dredge the harbor that was never used, will that money be spent in other places? The current mayor and the current Common Council voted to spend $6 million to renovate Simmons Island starting in the spring. They’re going to build a boardwalk, an amphitheater, and redo the parking lots. They’re going to build a 7,500 square-foot building right next to the historical lighthouse. Couldn’t the taxpayer’s money be spent in other ways, like building up the downtown area? Their idea is “Build it, and they will come.” The Parks Commission voted to spend millions on a total park plan. As mayor, would you revisit the plan and take the $6 million to develop downtown, and not Simmons Island? Would you stop the construction?
Museitif: I wouldn’t allow it to go through. As a city employee, I see how the sand wreaks havoc. I would revisit the plan to see if it’s economically feasible. Yes, I would open it up and review it to see if the projects are feasible and practical in today’s time.
Downing: There was an all parks study done with tens of millions of dollars being spent over several years. Public hearings were held, and input was provided by the citizens. This is what they wanted. I don’t agree with an amphitheater on Simmons Island. The city paid for the park plan study to be done. But, all plans change. We can’t stop the plan. Another piece of it is a park on the west end of the city, Strawberry Park. They need a park there; they don’t have one. If you have something to say, show up before the Parks Commission and complain.
Fox: I went to the first meeting. There were six of us who attended the meeting. It was in the middle of winter, and it was never advertised. One lady was for it, and the other five of us were against it. What does the commission listen to?
Downing: There are citizen sign-in sheets for the meetings. You can make a public records request.
12) The county has no financial responsibility for the harbor. The county and the city are at odds over a lot of issues. I have an ear in the county. The harbor is an asset for the city and the county. Do you think it should be funded by both parties? Should they split the responsibility?
Downing: If you split the responsibility, then you have one side blaming the other when something doesn’t get done right. I would say keep it in the hands of the city. Things will get done faster.
What would you do differently?
Downing: We need someone in charge of the harbor. If we get a person in charge, maybe we wouldn’t have any problems.
Museitif: We need the Harbor Commission back, made up of elected officials and citizens. We need a “voice of the harbor.” The city and the county don’t agree on anything. Right now, there’s a disagreement with the police dispatching, with Joint Services.
If both have insight, staff the Harbor Commission and staff someone with the position, they would have to have the responsibility and bite. The issues this group has, it’s our livelihood. It needs to be a priority, obviously, not like the schools. Dredging every couple of years. For the last four times, we’ve spent over a million dollars. Fund a study and correct issues/problems. The private sector is frustrated. The average age of boats is 1977. The average dollars is less than that. This is a working class city. We enjoy the lakefront. Members who have moved here are flabbergasted that it’s not being maintained.
Ed Warner: I’m afraid that, if we don’t dredge the harbor, the United States Coast Guard may cut out the Coast Guard station in an effort to save money. I’m a past commodore of the Coast Guard. If we lost the Coast Guard station, they’d have a helicopter take care of rescue missions. Trust me, a helicopter is far away. You’d much rather see a 41 boat coming over the horizon to save you. The last time a reading was taken was in December, and there was a three to four foot depth to the entrance of the harbor. A 41 boat would bottom out, as well as some sailboats. I hope you’re listening to us. For the safety of boaters, we can’t allow that to happen.
The gentleman who owns the lighthouse spoke: I wrote a letter regarding dredging. It’s a chronic problem. Every four or five years, it needs to be done. It shouldn’t be a surprise. It wasn’t done properly the last time. They dredged in the wrong spot. Why doesn’t the city just buy or lease the equipment and do it themselves? There are ten cities all along Lake Michigan. Why don’t they just pool their resources and lease the equipment? It would only cost $75,000 if we had our own equipment.
Downing: I priced it. It would cost $90,000 each time.
Museitif: Each department has its own budget. We need an annual budget for the harbor, and it needs to be utilized properly.
13) You are both tavern owners. Regarding the smoking ban, I’ve heard that there are violators. What will you do?
Museitif: It’s a violation of State law. I’m not a violator.
Downing: My wife owns one in the Town of Somers. I do know that the police department goes out. If they find a person smoking, they issue a warning citation. It can be issued to me if I’m at the bar. Then, one hour later, if they come back, they could issue another warning to my wife. We need to clean up the law. I get reports of liquor and smoking violations on a weekly basis. There are a few exemptions for taverns with “open-able” windows. This is a loophole in the law. We know that it won’t be changed. Just let us know the violators. I have no problem calling them in.
14) As mayor, what are your top three priorities?
Downing: I want to get the downtown area going. Tourism will bring in tax revenue and jobs. Two companies are here now because of my work. But, I don’t care to have my picture on the front page of the newspaper. One hundred jobs have been added. One company is saving the city $400,000. The mayor didn’t even know about it. He toured the company on Monday. Next, the infrastructure, the roads. They’ve been patching 39th Avenue and 45th Street. The south side of 39th Avenue has been done two or three times, and now was widened. And, third, a downtown study. I gave them five pages of ideas at the downtown meeting this morning.
Museitif: I’d get the common Council and the administration to work together. Quit bickering. Get control of spending. Secondly, with the mild weather we’ve been having, we’ve been able to save a lot of money. Don’t stick it in other pockets. Bank it. We may have more shared revenue losses in the State next year. We need to hide the money and hang on to it. Third, get more business-friendly. I’ve been filling potholes the last few weeks. I see foreclosed homes everywhere. It just kills me. We need to get the people back to work.
As a small business owner, I pull permits for electrical work. The city is difficult to deal with. They’ve released several inspectors, and now have a minimal staff. You have to wait for inspections. Is this mismanagement? It’s an ongoing problem that hasn’t been addressed. Yes, we have the trolleys and the museums, but we still have a long way to go. I hope our insight has been passed on to you that we are on, around, and in the water year-round. Some of the aldermen haven’t been down here in years. We have needs and possibilities. Thank you for coming. Private groups will work better for the city.