Pamela Strittmater was among homeowners across the city who got a notice this week that the La Crosse completed a mass revaluation of all residential property for the 2019 assessment year.
“I’m in total shock,” said Strittmater, the president of the La Crosse Area Apartment Association.
The assessed value of the four properties Strittmater owns went up a combined $135,000. The values of two went up 32%, one went up 27% and the fourth went up 5%.
“Even my parents who live two blocks away, their house went up 10%,” Strittmater said.
According to the notice, the majority of the assessment changes are in the range of 25 to 50%, while some neighborhoods and property types will see larger or smaller assessments based on market conditions.
The numbers are concerning to property owners like Strittmater who are worried that the increase in assessed value will mean a jump in their property tax bill.
However, city officials assured the public Tuesday that higher assessed values don’t mean their taxes are automatically going up. That’s part of the reason why the update was sent out en masse, said La Crosse city planner Jason Gilman, who oversees the Assessor’s Office.
“It’s really important to do this citywide just for equity. If you only do certain sections of the city, obviously it shifts the tax burden,” Gilman said.
Some people’s bills will go up — especially for waterfront properties that are seeing some dramatic value increases — but others could see a lower bill, because the tax rate will change.
“They can’t take their new value and multiply it by the old (tax) rate. That’s not how it works,” Gilman said.
The increased values won’t automatically mean the city is getting more money. The amount assessed — and the amount to be spent — each year is set by the La Crosse mayor and Common Council in the fall.
“If spending is held constant and all the values go up, theoretically the (tax) rate should go down,” Gilman said.
La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat said Tuesday he was committed to reducing spending as long as he’s the top executive in the city.
“When it comes to our budget and what we have to levy, we’re going to continue to hold the line. I’m not worried about that at all,” Kabat said.
His goal is to keep the total levy, which was set at $35.4 million in 2019, $34.4 million in 2018 and $34.6 million in 2013, constant, he said, and lower the tax rate, which the city has done for the last two years.
“We’re going to continue with our budget discipline,” he added.
The revaluation was prompted by state regulations that require cities to keep the assessed values within 10% of fair market value and revalue properties every five years. La Crosse last saw a complete revaluation in 2008.
“It’s been quite a few years. The city frankly has fallen behind on our assessed value by state statutes,” Kabat said.
That’s a problem because if the city falls too far behind, the Department of Revenue issues a warning and can actually make adjustments for the city, which Gilman said weren’t as accurate as assessments by locals who are better in tune with neighborhood housing markets.
The delay was caused by the implementation of Market Drive software, which took longer than expected to get up and running, but is meant to improve the city’s appraisals and comply with DOR requirements.
“This is basically a step in the process to update our property values to better reflect what the markets are,” Kabat said.
With an aggressive housing market where housing prices are rising, the assess values rise to reflect that.
“We have a strong real estate market and the goal is to get people close to market value,” Gilman said.
Gilman and Kabat urged people with questions to either call the city assessor’s office at 608-789-7525 or visit cityoflacrosse.org.
People can dispute their assessment by filing an objection with the La Crosse City Clerk to go before the Board of Review at least 48 hours before its first scheduled meeting May 20.
“Would you sell your house for what we have it valued at? If the answer is, ‘No, I don’t think I could get that much for it,’ then we want to know why,” Gilman said.
The city recommends bringing evidence of either a recent sale price for their property or a recent sale price of property close in proximity and similar to their property. The oral testimony of a witness who has made a recent appraisal of the property is also accepted.
Strittmater said she and her family, as well as the Apartment Association, aren’t sure what their next steps are.
“We’re all trying to get a grasp on this and trying to figure it all out,” Strittmater said.
She expects the uncertainty will lead to her and her husband putting off some much-needed roof repairs on their home.
“With the unknown value of how much our property taxes are going to go up, it’s going to make us defer some maintenance that we need to do for our house,” Strittmater said.
La Crosse County has some of the cleanest air in the country, according to the American Lung Association’s 2019 “State of the Air” report.
The report assessed air quality in the United States between 2015 and 2017, focusing on two federally regulated air pollutants: ozone and fine particle pollution.
The combined areas of La Crosse and Onalaska was one of 19 metropolitan areas where ozone pollution and fine particle pollution during a 24-hour period did not exceed national standards.
Wisconsin cities that made the list included Eau Claire and Menomonie. Other cities nationwide include Roanoke, Va., Springfield, Mo., Tallahassee, Fla., and Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Six cities, including Honolulu, Hawaii and Bangor, Maine, had the best air quality in the country when it came to ozone and short- and long-term fine particle pollution.
La Crosse County’s annual average or fine particle pollution was 6.7 micrograms per cubic meter, below the national standard of 12.
“Residents should be aware that while many Wisconsinites thankfully don’t have to worry about their air quality, others are still being exposed to air pollution,” said Dona Wininsky, with the American Lung Association, in a press release.
Also, air pollutants are mobile and get carried beyond their point of origin. For example, the state of Wisconsin blamed Chicago for contributing to Sheboygan County’s ozone problem when the EPA made its standards more protective in 2015.
Almost 141.1 million people in America are exposed to unhealthy levels of ozone or fine particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association. That’s about seven million more people than in 2018 and 16.1 million more than in 2017.
Those most affected by bad air tended to live in large cities, especially in the West and Southwest. Los Angeles continues have the worst ozone pollution in the country, a spot it has held in the American Lung Association rankings for 19 out of 20 years.
And climate change, along with spikes in air pollution fueled by wildfires, is making air quality worse.
Ozone is a molecule with three oxygens. In the stratosphere, it shields the earth from harmful solar radiation. Ground level ozone, on the other hand, is an air pollutant.
It’s formed from the byproducts of fossil fuel combustion, including from cars, power plants, industrial boilers, and refineries. The chemical reaction that produces ozone requires energy from sunlight, so more hot sunny days means more ozone pollution.
Inhaled, ozone can cause airways to constrict, shortness of breath and aggravate lung diseases including asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. People with asthma, older adults, children and people who work outdoors are most at risk when exposed to unsafe ozone levels.
Particulate matter are microscopic particles 10 microns, or one-hundredth of a millimeter, in diameter or smaller. Fine particles are 2.5 microns or smaller.
Fine particles that size can be inhaled deep into the lungs or absorbed into the bloodstream. Numerous studies have linked fine particle pollution with aggravated asthma, heart and respiratory problems, and premature death.
Ozone and particulate matter are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act. The agency is required to review—and revise, as necessary—these standards every five years using the best available science to protect public health.
The standards for ozone were last revised in 2015. The standards for particulate matter were last revised in 2012.
The EPA is pursuing a deregulatory agenda in line with President Trump’s executive order 13771, which calls for agencies to “repeal at least two existing regulations for each new regulation.” The agency has proposed to repeal the Clean Power Plan, which would reduce carbon emissions but also air pollutants emitted in tandem including fine particulate matter.
The EPA has also significantly reduced the number of independent scientific consultants that assesses the agency’s work when they review air quality standards. The EPA is in the process of conducting both the ozone and fine particulate matter review by 2020, a timeline many scientists have called unrealistic and aggressive.
An Onalaska teenager was charged Tuesday with stabbing his father twice.
Kole Reisner, 18, was charged with first-degree recklessly endangering safety, criminal damage to property, disorderly conduct, possession of illegally obtained prescription and battery by prisoners in La Crosse County Circuit Court, according to a criminal complaint.
Reisner’s aunt called Onalaska police Saturday and said her nephew stabbed his father, her brother, on South Oak Avenue, according to the criminal complaint.
There was blood on the floor, kitchen and bathroom, as well slashes on the bathroom door, when police arrived, according to the complaint.
The victim had two stab wounds — one in his abdomen, the other in his backside, according to the police report.
Both wounds were bleeding when police arrived and Reisner’s father had a towel pressed against the wound in his abdomen, police said.
Reisner’s father told police Reisner had been stealing money from him and Reisner’s aunt, all of whom lived together, according to the complaint.
Reisner’s father also said that on the day of the attack, Reisner asked for money and he refused, according to the complaint.
Reisner’s aunt said she woke up at 3 a.m. to her brother yelling and saw Reisner leave the house and enter an unknown vehicle, according to the complaint.
She got up to check, saw that he had been stabbed and then discovered Reisner’s knife-collection box was open, with one knife on the floor, and called 911, police said.
Reisner’s aunt also confirmed the victim’s statement about Reisner stealing money, saying there had been “ongoing issues with Kole’s behavior,” police said.
Reisner returned to the home as police were arriving and told them he acted in self-defense because his father had been abusive, according to the complaint.
Police said Reisner’s “statements were inconsistent and hard to follow.”
Police questioned the driver of the vehicle, Reisner’s girlfriend, who said she’d been with Reisner the entire night and dropped him off at his house at 2:45 a.m. so that he could pick up some of his belongings, and was in there for about 15 minutes, according to the complaint.
Reisner’s girlfriend said Reisner told her to drive to Great River Landing where Reisner left the vehicle, walked toward the water, where she couldn’t see him, and then quickly came back, got in the car and said he needed to go home because he was worried his father might die, according to the police report.
Reisner later told police that he threw the knife in the water, according to the complaint.
Reisner’s father was taken to Gundersen Health System.
Reisner was taken to La Crosse County Jail and about 6:20 a.m., jail authorities were told that Reisner had punched a jailer, according to the complaint.
Bond was set at $2,000 with a no-contact condition with the victim.