Affordable, accessible child care and housing among top La Crosse County priorities for American Rescue Plan Act funding

Redeveloping Hillview Health Care Center also slated for $5 million

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — Affordable, accessible child care and housing will get a tad over half of $22.2 million in federal rescue funds the La Crosse County Board of Supervisors designated for eight project areas Thursday night.

Also reserved for a major chunk — $5 million — of the county’s allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is a project to redesign and redevelop Hillview Health Care Center.

The overall resolution designating the projects nearly was derailed when supervisors extensively debated a proposed amendment to add a ninth category, allocating $90,000 to nine festivals, including Oktoberfest, Riverfest, the La Crosse Interstate Fair and Spanferkel, among others.

The resolution designating the eight categories was based on the board’s own list of priorities, which resulted from a community survey that attracted 1,500 responses and seven task forces consisting of more than 80 community members.

Supervisor David Hundt proposed the festival amendment, which spawned a dust-up over how the fests were selected, as well as the fact that helping those nonprofits had not been raised during the lengthy priority-setting process.

Supervisors generally agreed about the tourism value of the festivals but several suggested that such groups should apply for help if they need help because of losses during the pandemic.

“The county board should not hand-pick nonprofits,” Supevisor Peg Isola said,” noting that other events, such as the Great River Folk Festival, the La Crosse Storytelling Festival, Country Boom, Art Fair on the Green, among others, were not listed on the amendment.

Board Chair Monica Kruse noted that the county is home to 20 to 25 festivals.

After extensive discussion, the amendment failed on a 22-4 vote, with one abstention. One of the points raised during the kerfuffle was that none of the nonprofits had applied for ARPA funding.

Following are the amounts of reserved funding, which must be obligated by the end of 2024 and spent by 2026 under ARPA rules, and the projects they target, in order of priority:
• $3.3 million for new or expanded, high-quality child care, based on the Childcare Neighborhood Model. It would be a pilot program to provide affordable child care, with community partners collaborating, that is accessible in neighborhoods.
• $3 million for affordable housing through Bridge Housing for Families. It would provide immediate housing to families experiencing homelessness throughout the county.
• $2.425 million for skilled trades training. The program would expand training for youths interested in skilled building trades and improved marketing of existing programs.
• $3 million for affordable housing with Bridge Housing for Adults with High Needs. It would provide safe housing to chronically homeless people, with on-site support to help them transition to long-term housing.
• $2 million for housing development to expand the county’s Acquisition and Demolition Grant Program to make it available throughout the county and include rehabilitation initiatives.
• $5 million to replace outdated buildings at Hillview with a modern facility focusing on caring for older adults with dementia and other complex needs.
• $1.5 million toward sustainability with installation of solar panels on county buildings or land with a goal of reducing the county’s energy projects and move closer to the county goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.
• $2 million toward sustainability with a Stormwater Infrastructure Grant Fund. The grant program would allow villages, towns and cities throughout the county to apply for stormwater infrastructure projects. It is intended especially to pay for infrastructure upgrades in rural parts of the county.

Final disbursements for the projects will be subject to board review.

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