La Crosse wants more county funds to lower city property taxes

City wants to distribute taxes more evenly across the county

A new study by the city is looking at ways La Crosse can lower property taxes by more evenly distributing services with the county.

Some of the findings could mean changes to taxes for those in and out of the city.

The study, commissioned by Mayor Tim Kabat, is looking at ways the city can lower
property taxes by distributing more financial responsibility to shared county services that are also used by the greater La Crosse area.

With the property tax rate more than double than its neighbors, it’s a problem Kabat would like to address.

“In many ways (high property taxes are) holding us back from attracting more residents,” said Kabat.

The study, prepared by John Kovari, assistant professor of political science and public administration at UW-La Crosse, looks at ways the city and county share facilities, including services that only the city pays for, but the entire county utilizes.

“Some of the things like our park system for example, or the library, those are a couple of ones that stand out where city taxpayers are paying for sort of a regional service that is enjoyed by more than just city residents,” said Kabat.

By more evenly distributing taxes, the study estimates city taxpayers could save between $65 and $366 a year. Some changes could actually have a positive impact on the county as well.

“One example for the county to get out of the parks business, and turn those county parks over to the local jurisdictions,” said Kabat. “They would be responsible for it, and that would lower the county’s mill rate, which again helps everybody.”

With the possibility of any changes to taxes outside the city, county officials support the study, but want more time to look at the study’s effects.

“Our goal really is to take a look at it and study it, and that’s going to take a long time,” said Charlie Hand, county planner with La Crosse County. “It’s a controversial issue. Everybody has their different taxing entities, everybody has their municipality.”

With any discussion involving taxes, the county and Kabat know it will bring difficult decisions.

“When you start to talk about fairness, and who’s share is equal or not equal it can get really personal,” said Handy.

“It’s going to take a lot of work, and those are not easy conversations to have, but just because it’s hard and sometimes there’s conflict involved doesn’t mean we should avoid it,” said Kabat.

The study only focused on the city of La Crosse, so it’s not known exactly how property taxes outside the city would be impacted by some of the changes.
Some of the other shared services include the La Crosse Center and the La Crosse Municipal Airport.
Kabat does hope some of the study’s findings can be implemented by this time next year to be included in the 2017 budget.

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