The La Crosse tax rate will go down in 2018 but the overall levy will increase thanks to what Mayor Tim Kabat called a “phenomenal” increase in the city’s tax base.
Under Kabat’s proposed executive budget, unveiled Thursday, property owners would pay $12.05 per $1,000 in property value next year, a decrease from last year’s $12.29 per $1,000. If approved by the Board of Estimates and Common Council, the 2018 city property tax bill would be $1,807.50 for a $150,000 La Crosse home.
“From just the strict, financial part of it, the city and what I’m proposing here for the council is, I think, really a strong continuation of the fiscal discipline that we’ve been exhibiting for the last several years,” Kabat said.
The total levy for 2018 is $34.38 million and the operating budget includes $70.75 million in total spending, compared to last year’s $34.8 million levy and $69.18 million operating budget.
“It is up a bit from last year (2.27 percent). That’s primarily because of salary and wages and benefits, but, for the last five years, it’s down a bit from where it was in 2013,” Kabat said. “We’re really trying to be disciplined in our total spending. The city is doing a very excellent job on that.”
The 2013 operating budget was $71.78 million.
Kabat credits significant growth in the city’s equalized value, which jumped to more than $3.76 billion this year, along with the city’s fiscal responsibility, for the lower tax rate.
“The fact that we have grown 9 percent really is the fruit of all the investment and development projects that we’ve seen over, realistically, the last five years,” Kabat said. “Those things are starting to pay real dividends.”
The budget uses savings in the city’s fuel management account, 2016 budget surplus and uncommitted carryover funds, and includes an across-the-board pay increase for all staff and no staff cuts, as well as funding several of the city’s neighborhood revitalization priorities.
Kabat was especially pleased that the budget fully funds all six of the La Crosse Police Department neighborhood resource officers, a program he said has been very successful.
“All the neighborhoods where they’ve been engaged have an increase in community inclusive contacts. They’ve been building relationships,” Kabat said.
“The police department is a part of the neighborhood. They’re not a separate entity that are only there when something bad is happening. They’re actually engaged and doing a lot of preventative things,” he added.
The program began three years ago through grant funding from several sources.
The budget also restores the hours at the branch libraries to 40 per week from 24, expands housing programs to include possible market-rate housing rehabilitation loans and funding for an ending homelessness project manager, and expands the city’s downtown façade renovation loan program to businesses on the North Side of La Crosse.
Council president Martin Gaul, reviewing Kabat’s proposal Thursday afternoon, said the city is in good shape going into next year.
“The City of La Crosse is in a relatively solid financial position given the strong growth in equalized value combined with our continuing efforts to control expenses and streamline city government,” Gaul said in an email. “We are certainly on the upswing with good momentum going forward, which is in no small part thanks to Mayor Kabat’s leadership.”
Gaul, along with the city’s Board of Estimates, will go through the budget in depth at a meeting Monday at City Hall.
“As with everything the devil is in the details and I look forward to reviewing the full budget document,” he said.
Kabat anticipates a similar discussion to one held last year, as the levy falls short of the maximum set by the state, $35.4 million. The mayor issued a rare veto last year after the council passed a budget increasing the levy to get it closer to the state limit. The council overrode his veto, levying for an additional $250,000.
“My stance hasn’t changed on this. We’re putting together a budget that funds our priorities. It does the things we need to do from neighborhood efforts and really our quality of life in our city,” Kabat said.