Difficult decisions ahead for the city of La Crosse, as it goes through a 2024 budget process.
Police and fire are seeing cuts in hiring and overtime. The library is losing a branch, a pool could be closed in the near future and public benefits, like large item pickup are ending.
Those were just some of the revelations Monday from Mayor Mitch Reynolds on La Crosse Talk PM.
La Crosse Talk PM airs weekdays at 5:06 p.m. Listen on the WIZM app, online here, or on 92.3 FM / 1410 AM / 106.7 FM (north of Onalaska). Find all the podcasts here or subscribe to La Crosse Talk PM wherever you get your podcasts.
“ We’re living in this world where we have state imposed limits on how much we can, how much revenue, in other words, how much we can tax,” Reynolds said. “We did receive an increase in shared revenue, but it’s not enough to cover health insurance costs, that’s not enough to cover cost of living adjustments, that’s not enough to cover just increased fuel costs, increased utility costs, all the things.
“And we’re trying to adjust to this reality. Knowing that we don’t have enough revenue, but we still need to provide services. And we’re also adapting to new pressures that come from some of the challenges that we’re facing from a societal standpoint. And that relates to obviously the crisis of homelessness in our community and the opioid epidemic and some other factors like that.”
While the state Legislature did change a shared revenue model that had left cities, towns and municipalities stagnant in funding for decades, now to a place where communities saw increases in funding — bigger areas like La Crosse got the least of that amount.
Plus, the state continues to sit on a $4 billion budget surplus, while trying to decide the best way to give the Milwaukee Brewers an upgraded stadium for $600 million — which is nearly half of what the team is worth — as places like La Crosse cut services to police, fire, and beyond.
“We had an initial request for overtime from the police department that we cut back on,” Reynolds said. “Fire department, there’s now four positions that we’re leaving open. There were three that held open from the previous year. Another one will be left held open.”
Meanwhile, the South Community Library Branch said it will be closing Dec. 1, as the city cut some of its funding.
“They’re cutting the library budget by 2%, I believe, and that will probably translate into the South Branch Library closing, and then that would be permanent,” Reynolds explained. “There’s a few other things — the position cut in the finance department, there is a couple of other things where we’ve made some slight adjustments.
“ I can’t control what (the library does) with their funding, but we have reduced their budget submittal by the estimated amount to operate the Southside Branch Library. It’s my understanding that the library board is largely OK, they’re not all in agreement, but the library board is largely OK with shutting down the South Branch.”
The plan for La Crosse’s pools is to repair one while delaying another. In that delay, the city can better access if keeping all three pools open is fiscally doable. Erickson Pool will close next summer for repairs and the plan is for the North Side Community Pool to close the summer after that for repairs — or possibly just remain closed.
“ St. Paul has three pools,” Reynolds said. “Madison has one pool. We are in a world by ourselves when it comes to pools and library branches. Nobody else has the amenities that we do.
“ Long term, we will be discussing the possibility of closing the northside pool,” he continued. “We would do that before we repair it. I cannot say for certain whether that will be something that we do, but we will certainly be discussing that as an option.”
The news comes as the city is preparing its 2024 budget.
“ They want to minimize any tax increase,” Reynolds said. “We can’t print money. We can’t borrow. Can’t run a deficit. So we have to cut services.
“ Frankly, it’s unrealistic to maintain, I think, where we’re at with the amount of revenue that we have to work with, with the ability that we have to fund public services,” Reynolds said, “it’s unrealistic to expect that we can maintain three pools in this community.”
“ We have to be realistic about what we can actually afford,” he continued. “The North Side pool will be part of a discussion. If it’s possible to, to keep it open, we’ll do it. I don’t want to close down pools. I don’t want to remove services. I want to provide as many services as we possibly can. But the reality is, is that it’s not something that is achievable in our current fiscal climate. It’s just not.”