Common Council approves funding for duplication analysis

Researchers will compare city and county services to be more efficient

The city of La Crosse wants to take a closer look at taxes in the city in an effort to potentially reduce them in the future.

It’s no secret the cost of living in the city of La Crosse is much higher than surrounding areas in the county. In an effort to explain why, La Crosse’s Common Council is proposing a countywide analysis.

Common Council members decided to put aside about $20,000 to create a city-county services duplication analysis. It will compare city and county budgets to make sure residents aren’t paying for more than they are using.

When you use one of the three public libraries in La Crosse, you don’t have to swipe an ID to get in or tell the librarian where you live. Anyone is able to use the services provided at the public libraries in La Crosse, but not everyone is paying for it.

“We have, in essence, taxpayers paying for services they are not utilizing. In the cases we found with the library, for example, we have people utilizing the services but not paying for them,” said La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat.

Of all the items checked out at the libraries in La Crosse in 2012, 12.6 percent were checked out by someone living in La Crosse County but not in the city of La Crosse. In 2013, 11.6 percent of the items were checked out by people not living in the city.

“To me it’s not fair,” said Kabat. “We are providing services to people who don’t live in the city or pay property taxes in the city, and they utilizes those services without having to pay.”

For the typical $100,000 household in the city of La Crosse, residents are paying $2,903 in property taxes. In the city of Onalaska, residents pay $2,187, and in the village of West Salem, residents pay $1,796.

“We are interested in looking at both the city budget, county budget and surrounding communities and comparing budgets and services to see if there are situations where there is duplication going on.” Said Kabat.

The city’s Common Council approved a city-county service duplication analysis.

“The purpose of this analysis is to really get to the facts as far as what is happening when it comes to the provision of various services, who is paying for them and who is benefiting from them,” said Kabat.

“There are 18 municipalities in La Crosse County, two cities, a whole group of towns and villages so we each have our own little box of government,” said Tara Johnson, chair of the La Crosse County Board.

The La Crosse County Board welcomes the idea.

“Anything we can do to improve the cost effectiveness, the efficiency of local government, La Crosse County wants to be a part of that,” said Johnson.

“Hopefully what it will boil down to is we can still provide these services but share the cost as well as the benefits,” said Kabat.

The analysis will be done by a group of researchers at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. They will take a close look at municipal and county services to see if any duplication of services actually exists. If they do, it will also provide recommendations and alternatives to the city and county to reduce the impact on city taxpayers.

The city will be paying for the entire cost of the analysis, which is estimated to be about $20,000. If the project comes in under budget, the remaining funds will go back to the city.