City of La Crosse reorganizations could save taxpayers more than $200,000 next year.

The La Crosse Common Council approved two resolutions at its Thursday meeting that will merge the Assessors Department into the Planning Department and the Human Resources Department into the Finance Department. The move is expected to reduce the number of city staff by two full-time positions and save more than $204,000 in 2018.

This reorganization comes after the city’s 2014 Organizational Assessment that showed La Crosse had more departments — 19 at the time — than any of the city’s peer communities. The assessment recommended reducing that number to six or seven large departments. Since then, the city has eliminated the Public Works Department, merging duties and positions into the Engineering Department.

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Tim Kabat

Kabat

Mayor Tim Kabat said the decision to move forward with the proposals was due to the upcoming retirement of Human Resources Director Wendy Oestreich and Chief Assessor Mark Schlafer. Oestreich, who has been the HR director since 2008 and a city employee for nearly two decades, will retire by the end of the month, with Schlafer retiring later this year.

Both departments are also upgrading their technology with new software designed to improve efficiency and reduce the amount of manual input. For example, the new HR software is expected to streamline the job posting, application and hiring processes.

The proposal will eliminate the city assessor and assessment clerk positions in the 2018 budget as well as change one of the staff positions in the assessor’s office into a lead property appraisal specialist working for the Planning and Development Department. The HR director position and a human resources specialist position will be reorganized into a deputy director and assistant position in the Finance Department.

Kabat said the city will continue to look for other savings to keep taxes down as costs continue to rise. As the city continues to streamline processes and systems, he said there might be opportunities for further staff reductions in 2019.

“It is the reality of what we face as a local government,” he said. “We have to look at opportunities like these for streamlining and reducing.”

In other business

The city approved changing the city clerk position from an elected one with terms of four years to one appointed by the mayor. The current city clerk, Teri Lehrke, has been on the job for more than two decades and was most recently re-elected in 2017.

The city’s attorneys updated the board on work to evict harbor services company La Crosse Municipal Harbor Inc. from the marina. A judge ruled in May that the company’s bankruptcy filing in 2016 means that the company cannot take on a new lease with the city. The city of La Crosse began eviction proceedings against the company around the same time as the bankruptcy filing.

In an interview, Kabat said the goal of the eviction proceedings was to cause as little disruption to this year’s harbor and boating season as possible.

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Nathan Hansen has been the Education Reporter for the Tribune since 2014. Prior to that, he covered education, agriculture and business topics for the Winona Daily News. He is always on the lookout for news tips and can be contacted at 608-791-8234.

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