La Crosse considers playbook for economic incentives

Published On: Jan 30 2013 04:02:52 PM CST   Updated On: Jan 28 2013 07:49:57 PM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -

Some in La Crosse are hoping to level the playing field when it comes to economic incentives in the city.

A proposed ordinance would establish an Economic Development Commission to oversee the new standards. Area business people would be included to give recommendations.

While the city has been offering a variety of economic incentives for several decades, there's never been a formal system for how those are requested and approved.

"I think a lot of folks like to know what the rules are for both sides," said Larry Kirch, La Crosse's city planner.

Kirch believes economic incentives have been a catalyst for the city, helping grow jobs and boost downtown development. However, he thinks there needs to be a framework for how those incentives are distributed.

"That's what this is really about. Let's do a better job analyzing the incentives a particular project needs. That might gives us more room to give another project some incentives," he said.

"Right now, it's very informal," said Dick Swantz, a city council member who supports the proposed ordinance.

Swantz says it would create more transparency. He's well aware of the fact that some community members have complained about the city's TIF agreements with Kwik Trip and Don Weber.

"It's more of a myth than an accurate description that the city somehow doles out money to people without really checking anything out. I don't think that's the case," said Swantz. 

"On the other hand, I do think it would help if there is a structure...sort of a mechanism for looking at these things and everyone knew up front what it was," he added.

Both men believe La Crosse needs to offer economic incentives to stay competitive with other cities. They just want to make sure those agreements are what's best for the city and taxpayers.

"Encourage development but do it with some wisdom and forethought," said Swantz.

The proposed ordinance would still need to be approved by the full city council.