Which is better: Adding city fees or increasing property taxes?

Published On: Mar 26 2013 06:06:24 PM CDT   Updated On: Mar 26 2013 07:10:14 PM CDT
LA CROSSE, Wis. -

One week from Tuesday, the city of La Crosse will have a new mayor.

The person elected will help decide how and what services to provide to the public, but what is the best way to pay for those services?

As mayoral candidates Tim Kabat and Doug Farmer faced off in the final debate Monday night before Election Day, both said raising revenue for the city is important to provide services to the public, but city fees may not be the best way to do it.

“I think some of those fees are causing that disincentive, and I think that is something I would address,” said Kabat.

“Some of them could be so small that we are expending more money in terms of staff time collecting them than what we're receiving in terms of revenue,” said Farmer.

The debate over city fees comes at a time when University of Wisconsin-La Crosse assistant political science professor John Kovari said they are becoming more and more popular with many municipalities.

“This is because the state aid has dropped for Wisconsin municipalities overall, and politicians don't want to increase property taxes at all,” said Kovari.

During his time in office, La Crosse Mayor Matt Harter fought not to increase taxes.

Instead, the city saw roughly 35 new city user fees.

Kovari said there's a big difference between user fees and property taxes.

“The nice thing about user fees is that you can capture the people who are actually using the services as opposed to just the property owners in the city,” said Kovari.

But Kovari said there isn't one revenue source that's better than the other.

“Striking a balance between property tax and relying on a user fee is going to be very important for public officials to avoid that kind of fiscal disaster that might happen with just relying on the property tax or just relying on the user fees,” said Kovari.

Kovari said adding user fees can present challenges to nonprofits who rely on the nonprofit status to avoid paying certain taxes.

One of the more notable fees created this year was the boat landing fees.

City officials had hoped to collect $40,000 and ended up collecting $52,000.