Road condition

Cracks riddle Hwy. YY in rural La Crosse County. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates 70 percent of the state’s roads are in mediocre to poor condition. Only Illinois and Connecticut rank lower.

Peter Thomson file photo

La Crosse County voters will have their say on whether a proposed half-cent tax on tourism-related sales moves forward.

The La Crosse County Board approved putting the non-binding referendum on the April ballot by 21-1 vote Thursday night. Maureen Freedland was the only county supervisor to vote against the measure, which would be used to gauge public support before asking the Legislature to approve the tax request.

A premier resort area tax has been part of discussions on how the county will meet a growing need for road projects. County staff have identified almost $88 million in needed road repairs.

The tax would raise an estimated $5.8 million a year, which county staff said could end the current trend of borrowing money for roads projects and get the county caught up on needed work. The tax would also mean visitors to the county would be helping fund road improvements instead of relying entirely on local taxpayer dollars.

In expressing support for the referendum, many supervisors vented their frustration with what they perceived as Madison’s lack of political will to adequately fund local road projects and considered this option one of the few viable remedies. One of Freedland’s concerns with the referendum was that it might take pressure off the Legislature to fund road improvement projects.

“There is consensus across the board that La Crosse County roads are deplorable,” Supervisor Monica Kruse said. “La Crosse needs to come up with resources in order to get it done. And this is the least painful of the options for the county.”

The tax would apply to roughly half of all the goods and services sold in the county and include hotel rooms, items sold at gas stations and convenience stores and ticket sales. The county has focused on the sales tax in lieu of other options such as large property tax increases, a so-called “wheel tax” or borrowing.

If voters approve the referendum, the county would be able to use those results in a request the Legislature approve an exception to the law, as La Crosse County doesn’t meet the 40 percent commercial property threshold currently in the statute. Other communities that have been given exceptions have been required to fulfill other hurdles, including passing a second, binding referendum as well as a super-majority vote by supervisors.

County to sell business park land to city of La Crosse

The board of supervisors also agreed Thursday to sell International Business Park II, located off of Hwy. 16 near the La Crosse County Landfill, to the city of La Crosse for $1.375 million. This allows the city to promote the development of the property as well as improve vehicle access to the landfill and the La Crosse County Solid Waste Department.

Of the proceeds, $375,000 will be used to pay back the cost of a previous county property purchase, with the remaining $1 million to be used to provide funds to the Neighborhood Revitalization Grant Program in the City of La Crosse. The agreement also outlines a memorandum of understanding between the city and county for joint bidding of the capital improvement projects for the site.

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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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