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Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune  

La Crosse County Community Development Specialist Brian Fukuda shares information about the new Launch La Crosse program Tuesday as part of a Wisconsin Startup Week celebration at The Grand Ballroom on Pearl Street. The program seeks to connect startups and entrepreneurs with local resources. The week’s events highlight programs, grants and other opportunities available to those looking to start or grow a business in the area.


Local
top story
Shelby residents weigh in on boundary agreement with La Crosse

A proposed boundary agreement between the city of La Crosse and town of Shelby drew the ire of some Shelby residents, while others were more uncertain Tuesday during a public input session at Central High School.

The meeting packed the high school’s small cafeteria with residents coming to have their questions answered and their voices heard by the group of town and city officials who have spent more than two years negotiating the agreement. The deal divides the territory nearest the border between the city and town into five areas, each with different guidelines for future annexation or annexation prevention, as well as city-provided services such as water and sewer.

Proponents of the agreement say it will facilitate further development, giving potential builders certainty when it comes to which municipality the property will be in, which affects what the property taxes will be and what services it will receive — things very important to potential home-buyers. However, several Shelby residents objected to terms of the agreement that require some territory be annexed by the city and require the town to pay a fee per household to the city in exchange for regional services provided by the city.

The most contentious area is the first, which includes territory north of Hwy. 14 and on the west side of Leske Road that is required to be annexed into the city either upon development or within 15 years of the agreement going into effect.

Lorrie Schmitz, who owns a farm in area 1, called the proposed terms of agreement unfair and disrespectful of the rights of property owners.

“I feel bullied by the city in which I grew up. I feel betrayed by the township in which I have lived all my adult life,” Schmitz said.

She objected to the proposed terms of the agreement that call for the annexation of some town of Shelby territory by the city in 15 years, which she said would raise her taxes enough that she’d be forced to sell it to a developer.

She asked the panel to change the agreement to only require developed land to be annexed, leaving those who would prefer their property undeveloped in the town of Shelby.

“I believe a landowner should have the right to determine whether the land which he or she has cared for and paid taxes on should remain as farmland and woodland or turned into a housing development,” Schmitz said. “The proposal heavily favors the city of La Crosse while giving a limited reward to the residents of the town of Shelby.”

Shelby town chairman Tim Candahl stressed the importance of Shelby residents having the ability to sign on to La Crosse sewer and water without having to become La Crosse residents — something that hasn’t happened in 30 or 40 years.

“It’s unheard of that the city is going to offer the town of Shelby sewer and water without annexation,” Candahl said.

Schmitz, however, was unconvinced that it was worth the cost.

Naomi Morris, who lives in one of the town islands — areas of the town of Shelby surrounded by city of La Crosse — with her boyfriend, was torn on the agreement, saying she could understand the community benefits, but personally wanted to remain a Shelby resident rather than become a La Crosse one.

“I understand the greater good for the community,” Morris said. “When it comes to selling property, people lose interest when they learn there are add-ons.”

The town island residents won’t be annexed unless they voluntarily approach the city under the agreement, which Morris found reassuring.

“We like Shelby because we have larger lots with neighbors who are a little further away but still close enough to have a positive relationship with,” she said.

Her family also appreciates the excellent services they receive from Shelby.

However, she was grateful for the opportunity to share her concerns.

“Change is inevitable and having a voice is important. Changing and growing with the times is very important, too,” she said.

Jason Valerius of MSA Professional Services, who facilitated the meeting, said the public hearing was far from the only chance people will get to weigh in.

“Boundary agreements by their nature aren’t easy. In every agreement that I’ve seen or been a part of there are people who are pleased with what’s happening and pleased with what’s happening and there are people who aren’t really happy with the outcome,” Valerius said. “Inevitably there are people who have a hard time with that and for good reason.”

The negotiating committee will review comments from the meeting at its next meeting in December and hopes to have a formal draft agreement in January. After a draft is finalized, it will go before both the city and town Plan Commissions in a joint public hearing, and then to each municipality for approval. If both the town board and city council approve it, then the state Department of Administration will need to sign off on it before it can go into effect.

City of La Crosse and town of Shelby proposed growth

Local
Elections: La Crescent voters approve new operating levy

LA CRESCENT, Minn. — La Crescent-Hokah School District voters on Tuesday approved, by a 2-to-1 margin, a 10-year, $850-per-student operating levy that will bring in about $1 million annually.

The levy replaces a $235-per-pupil levy that expires in December and represents a 261.7 percent increase. The vote was 1,797 to 854. Turnout was 49.4 percent of registered voters.

School superintendent Kevin Cardille has noted the levy remains less than the state average of $879 per pupil.

Had voters turned it down, La Crescent-Hokah would have had to cut into core functions of the public schools, Cardille contended before the vote.

Last November, the district attempted to pass an operating levy during the presidential election that would have raised the current levy amount to $626.72 per student. But voters rejected the increase, leaving the district about half a million dollars short for school year, forcing the school board to make cuts and dip into reserve funds.

The new levy will raise taxes on a $100,000 home $101, according to the district’s levy calculator.

The district has 1,036 students, significantly fewer than in 2001, when it had around 1,660. All AP college courses have been cut, electives have been limited and many teachers are split between teaching in the middle and high schools.


Local
$65,885 grant to help Family & Children’s Center expand program to host youths whose parents enter treatment

The Family & Children’s Center is going to leverage a $65,885 grant to expand its Host Homes Program in a unique prevention effort to take in youths before they become homeless.

Yutuc

The initiative, announced Tuesday, aims to accommodate youths whose parents are going into treatment for opioid abuse, as well as abuse of alcohol and other drugs, said Tita Yutuc, president and CEO of the La Crosse-based FCC.

The announcement took place on the front lawn of Dorina Lukins, who has hosted homeless youths in the past and has set aside a bedroom in her home for this program. It occurred as the blue skies shoved aside clouds after several bleak fall days to shift the weather into a brisk but sunny day on an attractive, tree-lined street near the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Yutuc praised Lukins for being willing to open her home, while the retired Logan High School teacher said, “You need to do something to make a difference for the community.”

The funding comes from a La Crosse Community Foundation grant that includes this year’s contribution from the Johns, Flaherty and Collins-Michael Stoker Memorial Housing Fund.

The Host Homes Program, which the FCC launched three years ago with a La Crosse Community Foundation grant provides “host homes with caring and supportive adults for youths who were homeless and in need of stable housing — with the added safety net of a social worker,” Yutuc said.

The expanded application of the program is especially necessary in light of the acknowledgment of opioid abuse nationally and in Wisconsin, she said.

“This helps remove barriers to seeking treatment,” said Yutuc, who cited a study that attributed the majority of the workload for La Crosse County’s Child Protective Services last year to abuse of alcohol and other drugs.

“There’s a clear connection between substance abuse, child maltreatment and youth homelessness,” she said. “By freeing parents to seek treatment, we can prevent more kids from becoming homeless.”

Roter

Petra Roter, executive director of the La Crosse Community Foundation, said the program is a stellar example of how residents “can get together, lead together and walk together to be a compassionate community … to address this wicked, difficult and complex problem” of addiction.

It also dovetails with the foundation’s support for the La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness, she said.

Smith

And it is a perfect fit for the late Michael Stoker’s dedication to housing in the community, said Brent Smith, a managing partner of Johns, Flaherty and Collins, where Stoker also was a partner until his death in 2012. The fund, previously only in the firm’s name, was adjusted to feature his name as a memorial to him.

“He saw how often housing was connected to the less fortunate, and how important housing is to the whole being,” Smith said.

The Stoker fund was created from the proceeds of a class-action suit award the firm won in 2007, Smith said. Members of the firm were asked for ideas on what to do with the proceeds, and Stoker suggested “to put it in a fund for ongoing neighborhood needs. That is the whole impetus,” Smith said.

“He was a guy who cared a lot about this community, and he would particularly like this because it helps the community” in combating both homelessness and addiction, he said.

“It gives homeless youth the time, space and support to address their immediate needs,” Smith said. “And it prepares them to leave the program ready for a stable, independent living situation where they can fully participate in the community.”

Lukins, a good-natured 62-year-old who smiles frequently, and the potential youth for her to host will be vetted for compatibility in advance, as are all host families. Plus, she and the youth will get together to discuss rules and expectations — what will be allowed and what won’t, said Lukins, who taught English, speech and theater and now works part-time at Diggity Dog Daycare.

Her previous hosting endeavors included instances in which she took in youths for up to 48 hours on an emergency basis before child protective services became involved, she said, while others were “very unofficial.”

Lukins’ most recent guest was old enough and responsible enough to have his own key, she said.

Lukins’ husband, Kevin Griffin, is retired from the military and now is a military contractor who travels frequently, she said.

“We mostly meet in airports,” she said, laughing, adding that they generally are able to carve out January to spend time together in Hawaii.

Although she and her husband did not have children, she smiled and said she once estimated that she taught 15,000 children over the years and considers them her own.

That tally continues to grow.


Yutuc


Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Whittni Rezin drives to the basket during the Aquinas High School girls basketball team's WIAA Division 4 state semifinal win over Shiocton in Green Bay. Rezin and Aquinas teammates Jessa Peterson and Kyah Steiner are all going to play basketball at UW-La Crosse.


Constitutional convention
Wisconsin joins call for unprecedented convention to amend U.S. Constitution

MADISON — The state Senate has voted to make Wisconsin the 28th state to request an unprecedented national convention to amend the country’s founding document, the U.S. Constitution.

The Senate voted 19-14 Tuesday to pass the resolution completed Wisconsin’s application for a convention, which does not require the governor’s signature. The state Assembly passed the resolution in June.

The vote moves the nation one step closer to a process outlined under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, in which a national convention occurs if two-thirds, 34, of the state legislatures request it.

A resolution that passed the Senate Tuesday, as in the other 27 states, says the convention would be “for proposing amendments for the limited purpose of requiring the federal government to operate under a balanced budget.”

But critics, which include Democrats but also some conservatives and Republicans, call that restriction meaningless. They say there’s no way to enforce limits on the convention’s scope once it’s underway.

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and others fear a “runaway” convention, what they describe as a free-for-all in which other far-reaching proposals could surface, even ones that undermine basic constitutional freedoms.

“There is no safeguard for what gets dealt with when this constitutional convention gets started,” said Vinehout, D-Alma.

Supporters say the safeguard against a runaway convention is that any amendments emerging from the convention would need to be ratified by three-fourths, or 38, of the states. They say the greater threat to the nation’s future is a U.S. Congress that can’t control federal spending.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said the country already is too sharply divided to undertake such a momentous event as a constitutional convention.

“It is not our time in history to think we have the right to do this,” Erpenbach said.

Proponents of the convention said critics are ignoring the country’s mounting $20 trillion national debt. The sponsor of the convention resolutions, Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, said he has little faith in lawmakers to address the problem without a mechanism to compel it.

Sen. David Craig, R-Town of Vernon, described the debt as the chief threat to U.S. national security and charged his Democratic colleagues with ignoring it.

“I’ve talked to Democrats in other states who recognize that we have a debt problem,” Craig said.

Whether to put a time limit on Wisconsin’s call for the convention looked like a potential point of contention among Republicans who control the Senate.

Senate President Roger Roth, R-Appleton, planned to propose an amendment that would sunset the convention call in seven years, his chief of staff, Matt Henkel, said Tuesday morning. Henkel said then that Senate Republicans were set to discuss the amendment in a closed caucus meeting just before Tuesday’s session.

Roth withdrew his amendment on the Senate floor during debate Tuesday evening.

If the convention were held, a related bill passed Tuesday would require the Legislature and the governor to appoint seven delegates to attend and represent the state. The bill also allows a majority of the state’s convention delegates to vote to dismiss one of their fellow delegates if he or she voted to consider or approve an “unauthorized amendment,” or one outside the scope of the application or the call of the convention.

Earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald initially resisted Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ push to pass the constitutional convention measures. Fitzgerald said in March that he had questions about the scope of such a convention.

Gov. Scott Walker’s approval of the resolution applying for the convention is not required, but he has said he favors it.

The U.S. Congress can propose individual constitutional amendments under Article V. But requesting a convention is the only way for state lawmakers to initiate the process.

The U.S. Congress considered a federal balanced budget amendment in 1992, and it fell just shy of the two-thirds majority needed to pass the U.S. House.


Roter