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Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Trying to avoid unshoveled sidewalks, a 65-year-old man who wished to remain anonymous, walks down Sixth Street.

La Crosse stepping up sidewalk snow removal efforts
Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Trying to avoid unshoveled sidewalks, a 65-year-old man who wished to remain anonymous, walks down Sixth Street.

The city of La Crosse will step up snow removal, especially on sidewalks and corners, after the frequent snowfalls the past month have made some routes impassible for people who use mobility devices.

David Peters, a La Crosse resident who uses a wheelchair to get around, asked the Board of Public Works Monday for action.

Peters can’t get to the stores, can’t get his service-dog-in-training to classes and can’t get across major city streets with pedestrian lighting because paths aren’t being cleared. He’s filed six complaints with the city about the snow blockage, he said.

“Does my life stop because it snows? It’s ridiculous,” Peters said.

Peters was joined at the board by his friend Michael Byers, who also uses a wheelchair and requires a service dog.

“What we’re running into is that people want to make a 10-inch wide, or however the long the blade is, walking trail,” said Byers.

That’s not wide enough for someone in a wheelchair to get by, and city ordinance requires people to clear a 48-inch wide path within 24 hours of when the snow stops falling.

“There are a lot more of us as society ages that are using adaptive aids, that is a walker, a cane or a wheelchair,” Byers said.

The city as a municipality and the community at large needs to come up with a plan to make sure the city’s ordinance is enforced and that accommodations are made for people who need to get by, because without it, those people are forced into a health crisis by falls and their equipment is damaged by the sharp pitches of the sidewalk, he said.

“Yes I understand it snows a lot, and, yes, I understand, that you have budget constraints and everything like that,” Byers said; however, with the city’s aggressive ordinance, it should be a model of accessibility.

Doug Kerns, who manages the sidewalk snow removal program for the city of La Crosse, said he would ask the contractor hired by the city to clear a path for the two men Monday and bring a plan back next week to target the rest of the issues.

He explained that the frequency of large snowfalls in February has made enforcing the ordinance difficult. The ordinance gives property owners 24 hours to clear the snow after it stops falling. After that 24-hour period, the contractor crew is sent out to clear as much of the sidewalks as they can and property owners are charged $2.50 per linear foot and a $50 administrative fee to pay for the program.

“With the quantities of the snowfall, we haven’t been able to get everything addressed before it starts snowing again,” Kerns said.

Kerns added that he wasn’t making excuses, but, by ordinance, the city can’t charge people for clearing snow before that 24 hours is up, and that a large portion of the problem was snow and ice at the corners of sidewalks, running three or four feet into the city street. Plus, the area is expecting more snow through March, and the National Weather Service is predicting a wintry mix for this weekend.

“This year is so unique. We’ve got frozen material that is 3 and 4 feet out into the roadway now,” Kerns said.

He suggested the city hire a contractor to clear that ice from the crosswalk on city streets and not charge property owners for that build-up, some of which is caused by city plows.

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat called on Kerns to develop a plan with other city staff, such as the water utility, parks crews and street crews, and look into getting more contracted help to find a way to catch up on the snow removal.

“A crew of four or five people cannot cover the whole city, especially in some of these main thoroughfares, once they get frozen and beaten down,” Kabat said.

The mayor agreed that it would take the entire community to tackle the problem, from property owners being diligent about clearing sidewalks to the city clearing off street corners.

Photos: A look back at our seemingly never-ending winter in the La Crosse area
Photos: A look back at our seemingly never-ending winter in the La Crosse area

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La Crosse utility issued just under 50,000 parking citations in 2018

The La Crosse Parking Utility issued 47,714 citations and took in $770,000 as people paid those tickets in 2018, according a report received Monday by the Board of Public Works.


Parking utility coordinator James Flottmeyer compared the citation numbers to 2017, when the enforcement officers wrote 35,000 tickets and brought in $613,000.

About 12,000 of the tickets in 2018 were warnings, Flottmeyer said, written under the city’s new ordinance requiring officers issue a warning for the first parking offense of a calendar year.

“Even though we’re handing out more warnings, the enforcement officers are being more diligent,” Flottmeyer said.

With its new license plate recognition software, the city is able to automatically suspend license plates when people don’t pay their parking tickets within 60 days.

“It really drives people to come talk to us,” Flottmeyer said.

The utility has been working out payment plans for people who have racked up heavy fines.

The majority of parking ramp revenue in 2018 was for permit fees, which brought in $935,774, compared with the $124,475 brought in by hourly parking paid for at the pay stations.

By the numbers: How well do you know the nine parking ramps in La Crosse?
By the numbers: How well do you know the nine parking ramps in La Crosse?

Programs can reduce falls, address Wisconsin's high rate

As she went to get bird seed from her garage, Judy Dvorak fell on two steps leading down from her kitchen.

With her new bifocals, “the ground didn’t look like where it should be,” said the 75-year-old from Verona.

Dvorak had no significant injuries. But the incident shook her up enough to sign up for Stepping On, a seven-week program that helps older adults prevent falls through exercises and practical tips.

“It was an alert for me to work on awareness and balance,” said Dvorak, a former continuing education manager at UW-Madison who hikes and rides horses.

Stepping On, offered through the Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging and Safe Communities Madison and Dane County, is one of several programs designed to prevent falls and curb Wisconsin’s highest-in-the-nation rate of deadly falls among older adults.

Stepping On classes, home assessments and medication reviews are key ways seniors can reduce their chances of falling in their homes, where more than half of the state’s deadly falls among the elderly occur.

The programs “can support older adults in leading healthy and independent lives,” said Hayley Chesnik, director of strategic collaborations at United Way of Dane County, which helps coordinate them.

Stepping On

Walter Thieszen grasped the back of a chair as he lifted one leg to the side, and then the other, during a recent Stepping On class.

Thieszen, 77, of Verona, was diagnosed about five years ago with Parkinson’s disease, which can cause unsteadiness. He has fallen several times, including once when his foot caught a sawhorse and he landed on a patio, skinning much of his arm.

“I tend to shuffle,” said Thieszen, a retired state Department of Corrections social worker and administrator. “Balance is very challenging.”

Most of the dozen people gathered for the class at the Verona Senior Center had similar stories. One said she slipped on a vacuum hose. Another tripped on her cat. One collapsed while getting out of a restaurant booth, forgetting it was raised several inches from the floor.

Jane Leahy, a retired teacher from Madison, said she tumbled down the stairs at a coffee shop while vacationing in Slovenia two years ago.

Kyle Farris / Kyle Farris La Crosse Tribune 

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes tours Holmen High School's student-run greenhouse Monday afternoon. During his visit, Barnes called for Republicans to support a proposed bump in K-12 funding.

La Crosse board OKs extending sewer connection fees to city developments

The La Crosse Board of Public Works Monday approved charging connection fees to new sewer users in the city of La Crosse.

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat said the decision to rewrite the ordinance to charge La Crosse residents came after a closed-session discussion last month during the La Crosse Common Council meeting about negotiations with neighboring municipalities to provide sewer service.

The city uses a pay-as-you-go model for equipment costs, budgeting for replacement of big-ticket items in advance to avoid needing to borrow and pay debt service costs. As a result, users pay for those costs up front through their regular rates.

The connection fee, introduced in 2016 after a study prepared by Trilogy Consulting LLC, was designed to require new users to chip in $730 per residency-equivalent connection for those equipment costs that ratepayers in La Crosse, Onalaska, Campbell, Shelby and Medary have been paying for already. Basically, new developments in La Crosse will pay the same fees that developments outside city limits already have been paying to hook up to the wastewater treatment infrastructure.

La Crosse’s decision a couple years ago to exempt itself became a point of contention between the city and neighboring municipalities Onalaska and La Crescent as they talked about the future of the sewer system and how the city of La Crosse will provide sewer services to its neighbors.

Onalaska and La Crescent have joined to look into creating a La Crosse Area Metropolitan Sewerage District, with Onalaska submitting an application to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Kabat told the Tribune in January that exempting new users inside the city limits was a mistake and he understood why Onalaska representatives said it was unfair.