A layman’s guide to understanding the city budget

2013-11-20T17:00:00Z A layman’s guide to understanding the city budgetBy Ryan Stotts For the Houston County News La Crosse Tribune

On Monday, the La Crescent City Council is set to vote on the 2014 general fund budget. Part of that meeting (at 6 p.m.) is open for public comment and questions.

Since late summer/early fall, the general fund budget has been the topic of discussion in the chambers, so below is a handy guide, along with a few pertinent reminders, about what's in the general fund – which directly affects taxpayers.

Here’s how it all lays out, in the simplest terms possible. As a reminder, this is just what’s proposed.

The total 2014 budget for the city is $3.3 million. The proposed taxpayer-supported portion is $2,180,806. When looking at that sum, it’s separated into two main sections:



This is exactly what it sounds like, and it totals $1,178,998. Roughly $1.75 million makes up the ad valorem taxes, with an additional $426,000 going to pay the city’s outstanding debts.

Licenses and permits

The list is extensive, but it includes building permits, cats, dogs, massages and just about anything else you can be permitted or licensed for. Net total: $37,115.

,H3>Intergovernmental aid

Largely grants, it includes items such as state police aid, transit funding, with a big chunk coming in for the Wagon Wheel trail project. Total: $1,306,260.

Public charges for service

This has interesting items such as fingerprinting fees, plan check fees and police NSF collection services. It also includes the public swimming pool receipts, meaning memberships and concession receipts. Total: $144,275.

Fines and forfeitures

In 2014, this was entirely made up of court fines or the city’s portion of the fines paid for convictions or “plead guilty” tickets. Total: $25,000.

Special assessments

Larger items, those falling under the 429 special assessment process, aren’t included here. Smaller items, such as land lease payments, insurance debates and dividends, and interest on investments are. Total: $34,550.

Miscellaneous revenue

It comes from vending machine revenue entirely. $175.


City council

The $85,980 includes all dues and subscriptions, and it includes a $2,500 discretionary fund. Also noteworthy are the wages: $500 per month for the mayor and $400 per month for each councilor.

City clerk

This includes three full-time city positions -- finance director, book keeper and office manager -- as well as all the city employees’ insurance, accounting fees and software maintenance and support. Total: $244,334.

City hall

This is for the building --upkeep, maintenance, utilities and more. $26,300.

Police department

It pays for everything, including the six officers, one police chief and the secretary, as well as all expenses outside large capital (read squad cars) expenditures. $693,317.

Fire department

It encompasses 25 part-time employees, but it also includes the community building (which is used for more than just the fire department). It’s a 70/30 split with La Crescent Township, and the city’s (larger) expense rings in at $178,000.

Building/zoning and public works

This is for the city’s building and zoning official and the city administrator. It’s important to note that this isn’t simply a combined salary figure. It includes items such as training, travel and repair and maintenance of a computer and vehicle, and even postage. $157,887.

Streets and alleys

This is a big section which includes all expenses relating to maintenance of the city’s streets, including the employees of the department who handles it all (Note: They also handle water and sewer and wastewater duties). $1,210,477.

Brush site

It needs to be staffed and maintained. $6,660.


This is everything except the pool. We’re talking baseball, softball, volleyball, basketball, and sizeable ($65,000 each) transfers to offset debt at the city-owned Pine Creek Golf Course and La Crescent Community Arena. Total: $186,110.


2014 is an election year and there’ll be expenses. Those include staffing election judges in three precincts. Price tag? $9,400.

Legal services

With the city attorney budgeted to offer the majority of his service to the police department ($28,000), this includes all legal service provided to the city clerk department ($9,000), building and zoning ($9,000) and the city council ($9,000). Total for the year: $55,000.

Capital outlay

This section, which shows as $0, was replaced with the $920,000 capital equipment bond, which includes large-scale items (the council is looking at a proposed list), some with five- or 10-year payback terms. This includes big things like plows, trucks and squad cars.

Emergency services

Basically, the civil defense sirens. $1,600.

Animal control

For La Crescent Animal Rescue. $15,050.

Aquatic center

Here’s the pool. $138,485.


This pays for the parks and green spaces (including one employee who doesn’t also fall under the streets and alleys section). $80,065.

Library levy

A proposed $120,458.

Other financial uses

It’s a $1,200 transfer to bonds paid up for alley paving projects

Transit services

The total price tag of $124,050 is offset by transit funding of roughly $94,000.

It’s also worthy to note: The general fund balance is at $1,728,328. That’s in line with what the state and city auditors suggest it should be, which is equal to six months worth of operating expenses. Having said all that, any budget is a nuanced affair, but that’s why council meetings are open to the public. Have questions? Show up and have them answered.

Copyright 2015 La Crosse Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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