Wisconsin News

City of La Crosse balances budget for more than 30 years

LA CROSSE, WI - Detroit recently became the first city of its size to file for bankruptcy in the nation.

And while the city's financial troubles were decades in the making, La Crosse city officials said all it takes is one rough year to throw a city off course.

But with constant planning and immediate action, most crises can be made up for.

The city of La Crosse is doing something right.

It's operated with a balanced budget for more than 30 years.

City Council members say the secret is simply not spending money you don't have.

Balancing a city budget is not too different from handling your own finances.


"You simply need to balance and prioritize as you do at home and decide where you can spend your money," said City Council member Doug Happel.

It's a practice the city of La Crosse seems to have the hang of -- it's balanced its budget for more than 30 years.

City Finance Director Wayne Delagrave said behind that track record are dedicated City Council members and individual department heads.

"The common council on a very regular basis maintains that the expenses are always within budget. If not, they address those issues immediately. They check revenues on a monthly basis to make sure that everything is coming in as expected," said Delagrave. "The departments that have saved some money through their budgets, through conscientious budgeting, they maybe won't spend all of their budget, those excess savings from not spending their full budget allotment will also go into our savings at the end of the year."

But with state cuts and increasing costs, it's not easy to keep the city financially stable.

Happel said just like your own budget, if there's not enough money coming in, something has to go.

"The state tax cut is balanced on the backs of cities, municipalities and school districts, but those are the rules and you have to play with that and you have to have your priorities," said Happel.

"Over the last two years, I believe we've eliminated 27 positions out of the operating budget," said Delagrave.

With the City Council budget process about to get underway, Happel's preparing for some more tough decisions ahead.

"I'm guessing we'll have to find $2 million or so to balance the budget. So adding positions is probably not very realistic," said Happel.

The city budget will total more than $70 million.

In addition to balancing the budget for the past 30 years, Delagrave said, the city has also been able to put away at least a couple hundred thousand dollars into the rainy day fund every year.   

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