The city of La Crosse is trying to expand from within, and it's starting with its own employees.
More than a decade ago, city employees were required to live inside the city. But over the years, that requirement eroded, allowing some veteran city workers to move outside La Crosse. Today, it no longer exists, thanks to a 2010 state law that prohibited cities from imposing the requirement on its employees.
Now, La Crosse is looking to sidestep that law by offering incentives to workers who live inside the city. The goal is to grow its neighborhoods by convincing its own city workers to put down roots here, instead of a nearby community. Mayor Tim Kabat says that may families into the city, revitalize our neighborhoods and make La Crosse a more attractive place to live, while at the same time bringing local government closer to its residents.
"People talk about the benefits of having city workers - police, fire, streets, all that - living in these neighborhoods and being invested in what goes on there," Kabat said. "That's good for everyone."
About 30 percent of the 450 workers employed by the city live outside La Crosse. The city can't penalize them for that because state law prohibits it, but Mayor Tim Kabat says offering a carrot instead of a stick might just do the trick.
"I think it's really important that our employees live in the city, and rather than making it a punitive thing, make it a positive thing and utilize it as another way to help revitalize our neighborhoods," Kabat said.
An executive city committee is looking at the all the options - including some sort of housing program to recruit new workers into La Crosse, or a lump sum bonus or retirement contribution for existing employees.
"Maybe people want to have some options," Kabat said.
All options are still on the table. City officials plan to include the residency incentives in next year's budget once they've been decided.