City council passes budget, overrides Harter’s veto

LA CROSSE, Wis. — The La Crosse City Council passed the 2012 budget on Saturday, overriding Mayor Matt Harter’s veto.

The 13 – 2 vote came at a special meeting after Harter vetoed the budget on Friday.

“I suppose (we could) find another $600,000 to cut but what services would we have to reduce,” said Audrey Kader, the president of the city council.

“I believe that we gave it a really good review and cuts were made and it was responsible,” she added.

Harter announced his plans to veto the budget at a news conference Friday morning. The La Crosse Common Council originally pased the more than $72 million budget Tuesday night.

Harter vetoed the plan, however, saying he would like to see cuts from all city departments to offset an estimated $630,000 in new revenue that will be generated through a number of user fees for city services.

“While I am in favor of relying on fees instead of property taxes,” Harter says, “I am not in favor of adding additional fees to our budget that will not reduce the property tax levy by an equal amount. The budget does not reduce the tax levy by the same $630,000.”

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Mayor Harter also spoke at the news conference about an idea being floated around from a city council member to add a city administrator position. A city administrator would handle several the duties of the mayor.  We asked Mayor Harter if that proposal had anything to do with his veto.

“It is all part of the bigger picture.  So yes, there is a direct correlation there.  I do feel we need to focus on what can be made better in our current budget instead of discussing adding another position to our city government,” says Harter.

The Mayor says talking about a city administrator heads them in the wrong direction.  Instead, he says the council should be focused on the employees they have right now and how they can combine staff.  He adds that right now the city has excessive management positions.

Council member Chris Olsen says during most of his time speaking, the Mayor talked about the city administrator position.  Olson says that hasn’t even been discussed in the council.

City Council President Audrey Kader says she was “blindsided” by the announcement Friday.  She says there’s nothing wrong with looking at how departments are staffed, but says the budget veto is unfortunate. 

“But you can’t do it by attrition, you have to do it in a planned way. You have to evaluate each of the positions and if they’re necessary to the function of the city, if they are we need to fill them.  If it’s something we can work without then we can see how it goes,” says Kader.

“It’s just reckless on his part.  We need to do these things ahead of time, not at the very last hour.  Now it puts the city in a real bind to put the budget and the taxes out to the citizens of La Crosse on a timely bases,” says Olson.

Olson tells News 8 Mayor Harter had every opportunity to speak his mind, but he didn’t in eight meetings on the budget. Olson says Harter is being reactionary, not proactive.

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