Wisconsin policy group salutes O’Malley’s accomplishments as La Crosse County administrator

Steve Omalley 2

MILWAUKEE (WKBT) — La Crosse County Administrator Steve O’Malley received the 2021 Norman N. Gill Award for Individual Excellence from the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

The forum recognized O’Malley for his 18 years of leadership in La Crosse Wednesday during its annual Salute to Local Government ceremony in Milwaukee Wednesday.

The annual accolade goes to an appointed public official deemed to contribute to governmental excellence and innovation.

The forum cited O’Malley’s willingness to seek out creative partnerships, his proactive approach on issues of equity in the workplace and strong fiscal management as reasons for honoring him.

“We believe that we can make a difference, that we have to take on the tough issues, and we’ve done that,” O’Malley said at the ceremony. “It’s not about me, it’s about the team of people that I’ve had the honor of leading.”

La Crosse County Board Chair Monica Kruse commended O’Malley for his advocacy of equity in the workplace and “exemplary fiscal stewardship” as county administrator.

“We congratulate Steve O’Malley on this well-deserved recognition,” she said. “For almost 20 years, he has been the guiding force in establishing La Crosse County as an innovative leader in county government in Wisconsin.”

O’Malley became county administrator in 2003 and was immediately tasked with figuring out how to expand the jail and courthouse and replace the county’s deteriorating downtown administrative center.

Through a series of complex transactions, the county administrative center was sold and the county moved into a new administrative center by remodeling the former Associated Bank property.

As part of that process, a vacant parking lot owned by the county became the Belle Square apartment and business complex. The former county administrative building was converted into the Hub on Sixth, which is home to about 90 residential units.

The developments added $47.8 million of tax base to downtown La Crosse. At the same time, the county was able to eliminate the liability its outdated buildings had created, and move into modern, sustainable offices.

O’Malley cites the downtown property overhaul as one of his proudest achievements.

Other accomplishments he singled out include the creation of a multi-county commission to operate Lakeview, the county-owned nursing home in West Salem. The model, which was the first of its kind in Wisconsin, has other counties pay to send their residents to Lakeview.

O’Malley estimates that the initiative has saved La Crosse County taxpayers almost $11 million during the past 14 years.

During O’Malley’s tenure, La Crosse County also instituted groundbreaking reforms in the local criminal justice system, including the county’s Justice Support Services that help individuals transition back into the community or stay out of jail altogether.

“The vast majority of people that are coming through the system are going to turn their lives around,” O’Malley said. “The vast majority just need a chance to do that, and that’s really our philosophy.”

At the ceremony, O’Malley credited county board chairs he’s worked closely with and county employees who he said have made his success possible. County staffers have worked to create a sustainable future for the county and the public services it provides, he said.

La Crosse County has the fifth-lowest property tax rate per capita in the state, and the lowest among counties of comparable size.

“I’m confident that we’ve established a process of managing county finances in such a way that the taxpayer knows we have the absolute lowest tax levy that we can provide,” O’Malley said.” My hope is that, as I come to the end of my career, the changes we’ve implemented outlast me.”

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