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Capital improvement budget, including potential $36-million police-fire facility, gets vote by council Thursday night

Rick Solem

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A five-year, nearly $119 million capital improvement budget is on the agenda for Thursday night’s La Crosse city council meeting.

Within that agenda are steps, over the next few years, the city could take in building what would end up being a $36 million police and fire, let’s call it a headquarters and the corner of Fifth and Market, where Fire Station No. 1 currently resides.

In the midst of a pandemic, as budgets are being slashed throughout the city, and as the nation struggles with the responsibilities of the police, some believe La Crosse shouldn’t even be discussing a $36 million police-fire HQ.

City council member Doug Happel is not one of those people. He and council member Jessica Olson were both on La Crosse Talk PM on Wednesday.

“Because of an absolutely ridiculous, terrible incident that happened up in Minneapolis,” Happel said, “with obviously a very bad officer, and what is probably a pretty weak department, it is no reason that we should hit away at the La Crosse Police Department.”

Happel added that each step of the process for this facility would have to be approved each year, and that the first step in the capital improvement budget (CIP) is $1 million for land acquisition. Happel noted, $1 million was a lot of money, but in the grand scheme of this plan, it’s a fairly basic first step.

Jessica Olson, who also sits on the city council, remembers talking about this plan back in 2017. At that point, however, she said it was for new fire stations, which are 60-80 years old. How it evolved to a $36 million HQ for police and fire is unclear, and she thinks it needs a reset.

“I would like us to slow down, take it off the budget and really go back to square one,” Olson said. “Reach out to the neighborhood associations, reach out to community groups, to the residents, and just present the idea and ask, ‘What do you think?’”

Olson noted there are definite needs for renovations and new facilities for police and fire but the timing and clarity of the project just isn’t right.

“By having that item in the CIP right now,” Olson said, “I think all we’re doing is really festering a lot of that uncertainty, that we just need to get off the table, so we can back up and really do it right.”

Happel, who also is vice chair of the city’s police and fire commission, noted that the first step, and only step to be taken in the first year for the headquarters, is land acquisition budgeted for $1 million.

That, however, appears to also cement the outcome to some degree, as well.

“If we committed to something — let’s say a public safety center,” Happel said, “I think we’ve kind of made that obligation, and we would certainly be disingenuous try to switch it somewhere else.”

The city council meeting is at 6 p.m. Thursday. The best way to voice your opinion on the matter, is to email the council well before the meeting.

The meeting can be viewed here.

For anyone entering City Hall, social distancing is enforced and face masks are required. Members of the public who would like to provide written comments on any agenda may do so by emailing [email protected]

Aside from the CIP, some of the other things on the city council agenda, which contains 39 items:

  • “Bids & Resolution awarding contract to Market & Johnson, Inc. in the amount of $290,060.00 for the base bid with Alternate No. 1 for the Pump House Theater Renovation Project.”
  • “AN ORDINANCE to create Section 32-1(c) and to amend Section 32-163(a) of the Code of Ordinance for the City of La Crosse regarding the possession of marijuana.”
  • Resolution approving Settlement Agreement in the cases of Sears Holdings Corporation v. City of La Crosse …
  • Resolution Creating Tax Incremental District No. 18, No. 19 and No. 20, Approving Its Project Plan and Establishing Its Boundaries.
  • Resolution Approving an Amendment to the Project Plan of Tax Incremental District Nos. 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, City of La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM and "liberal hack" | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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    C. LeBlanc

    July 9, 2020 at 8:43 am

    To approve the $36 million dollar law enforcement center NOW during a pandemic and economic turmoil with so much ‘unknown’ ahead of us is irresponsible. Even if it is ‘just’ acquiring the land, it makes it more or less a “done deal”. Timing is everything!

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