Newsmakers, January 8, 2015

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The Year Ahead For The City and County of La Crosse; Local Government Cooperation

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  • The Year Ahead For The City and County of La Crosse

    The city of La Crosse and La Crosse County have a number of development projects in the works as 2015 begins, which officials hope will strengthen the local tax base or improve services for decades to come.

    One of the key projects was approved by the La Crosse County Board of Supervisors during the last week of 2014 involving a county-owned parking lot known as lot C, and the deal could change the future of downtown La Crosse. The county sold the land to Weber Holdings for $1 million. The plan is to eventually have a multi-use development on the property between 3rd and 4th streets involving housing and retail space. It’s part of a complicated deal that also involves selling the county’s administrative building to private developers for student housing, and moving the administrative center to a former bank headquarters at 6th and State streets. All three sales are expected to close later in January according to La Crosse County Board Chair Tara Johnson.

    “All of these decisions that the county is making, really that path was paved by city vision planning,” Johnson said. “It’s work from long ago and also a lot of hard work on the part of recent county boards leading to that sale of lot C to Weber Holdings.”

    The city and county will work together on downtown parking issues that will be created when the parking lot is developed.

    Other county projects expected to move ahead in 2015 include:

    • The start of a housing project on Barron Island, land known as the Park Plaza property, an old foreclosed hotel property the county has owned for 15 years which it recently sold for $600,000.
    • Moving forward on a new almost $17 million Lakeview Health Center in West Salem. The plan is to build a more residential setting to house people with dementia, a mental illness or other health issues that require long-term care.
    • Buying some property near the La Crosse County landfill on Hwy. 16 known as the Schroeder property. That will allow the county to reconfigure the entrance to the landfill and could lead to more development for the cities of Onalaska and La Crosse.

    Among the projects the city of La Crosse is working toward in 2015 include:

    • A pair of downtown hotels
    • Housing projects involving the former Roosevelt Elementary School and former Bakalars Sausage Factory
    • Redevelopment of the former Trane Company Plant 6 site in north La Crosse
    • Site work on the Riverside North Redevelopment site, also known as the Mobil Oil site near downtown

    The county and city are working in partnership on the projects that impact both governments in the city of La Crosse.

    “That expectation from our citizens is to say ‘let’s get our most bang for the buck,’” said La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat. “We’re really looking at this not for the next year, but really for the next 50-100 years, so we want to do it right.”

  • Local Government Cooperation

    La Crosse County and the city of La Crosse are increasingly exploring ways to work together as challenges posed by the state of Wisconsin’s budget threaten local services.

    Cuts to the shared revenue program in the state’s budget in recent years have threatened local services from street plowing and road maintenance to help for vulnerable residents. Shared revenue is a way the state reimburses local governments for providing services to state residents. That combined with talk about more state-imposed property tax limits have local government officials worried about the future.

    The cooperation includes everything from working together on complex development deals that will eventually expand the area’s tax base to creating a more mobile deployment of county social workers with city police, neighborhood associations and faith-based organizations in vulnerable city neighborhoods to prevent a more expensive need for intervention. The neighborhood collaboration could begin by mid-2015. The county will also be at the table for future discussion of ways to prevent shutting down La Crosse’s branch libraries.

    La Crosse County Board Chair Tara Johnson says many people in La Crosse County government believe having a strong city of La Crosse is vital to having a strong county. But she says some of the things they are working together on, like stabilizing the city’s library situation will not be easy.

    “This is one of those cases where it doesn’t require a Madison fix. This is one we can come with on our own,” Johnson said. “There are issues like double taxation and the city and county library boards have the authority for spending dollars. The issue is ‘is the south branch library going to stay open or not, but I think it is a great opportunity to look at how we collaborate and solve this problem, but can it be a model for other things?”

    Johnson and La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat say it’s getting harder to budget at the local level given the financial constraints the state has placed on local governments in recent years, and further cuts could lead to more local programs being consolidated or eliminated.

Episode Credits

  • Maureen McCollum Host
  • John Davis Producer
  • Tara Johnson Guest
  • Tim Kabat Guest

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