LA CROSSE, WI -

The days of free extended parking in downtown La Crosse are soon to end.

In an effort to raise funds for the city’s parking utility department, three parking ramps in the downtown district will begin charging as early as October. Riverside Ramp is the only parking ramp to be excluded from the fees. While pay meters have been set up at the other three ramps, they have yet to be activated as city officials finalize the process.

According to Assistant Director of Public Works Robert Haines, the move to charge parking patrons has been one a long time coming.

“Right now, the taxpayers are paying the bill for [the ramps], because the parking utility doesn't raise enough money to cover its own costs,” he said.

The department is about $550,000 short of its operating budget, money that is ultimately made up for by the city’s general budget. Haines said he’s hoping money made by the parking ramp charges will help to close that gap.

It may take a while for Haines’ hopes to come true. The ramps will cost 50 cents an hour after three hours free of charge – a price that Haines estimates will raise about $75,000 yearly.

“It’s not going to pay for a lot of maintenance here,” Haines admitted. “It certainly will help, but at that rate, it's going to take just these pay stations about six years to pay for themselves.”

A consequence of the department’s tight budget is parking ramps that have depreciated over the years. Currently, the city only employs one full-time maintenance man to oversee the ramps.

Steve Dresen wakes up every morning at 3 a.m. to report for work, a job description that includes cleaning up vomit and urine found in the ramp stairwells. That’s not the worst thing he’s found in the downtown parking ramps.

“Today I found four hypodermic needles,” Dresen said. “You name it, I've picked it up. I had somebody throw a couch off the top of this ramp one day, it landed in the trees out on Jay Street, we picked that up.”

Dresen is the first to admit his job often includes more than one person can handle in a day. He’s hoping more funds for the department will translate into more help for him.

“It would definitely help having a second person, sure,” Dresen said. “I think if there was one more person, the ramps would be more maintained.”