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F&P approves 2022 equipment budget, more dollars for PFAS investigation
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F&P approves 2022 equipment budget, more dollars for PFAS investigation

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La Crosse’s city budget season has officially kicked off after the Finance & Personnel Committee approved the 2022 equipment budget Thursday night.

The small part of the city’s overall budget signals the first step into approving its funding for next year, and solely focuses on equipment needed for departments.

The city aims to purchase $6,503,865 worth of new equipment next year to replace and upgrade different systems and items.

The city’s budget process works as a series of nesting dolls, approving smaller pools of money that eventually add up to a bottom line on the final operating budget in November.

The equipment price tag will need to be approved by the full council next week, and will then be included in the full Capital Improvement Budget as a single line item that is approved in the summer, though it can be amended. The CIP is then added as one piece to the full city budget in the fall.

On the equipment list includes thermal imaging cameras and engine repairs for the fire department, a new public safety radio system for IT, new lawn mowers and heavy machinery for parks, streets and utilities, a new street sign maker, 20 new bullet resistant vests for police and three new hybrid buses for MTU, among other items.

The city is looking to spend about $2 million more next year than the $4,195,350 it approved for 2021, which was part of one of the city’s largest project budgets to date.

The equipment budget was unanimously approved Thursday, as was a resolution allocating more funding to investigate the PFAS contamination on French Island.

The committee approved $150,000 toward investigating the PFAS contamination at city Wells 23 & 24 near the La Crosse Regional Airport — the first to be found contaminated with the “forever chemicals.”

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$100,000 of those dollars are coming from the city’s contingency fund and $50,000 from the airport’s fund to foot bills for the investigation and legal fees related to it.

Wells 23 & 24 were taken offline in 2014 after they were found with levels of PFAS in the water. Since then, another nearby city well has also been found contaminated, and nearly 200 private wells in the surrounding area.

State officials have recently become more hands-on with the investigation as the scope of it continues to grow, and results from a wider testing sample are expected in the coming weeks.

The committee also approved moving $32,545 left over from a floodplain project to fund two outstanding Floodplain Relief Program grants on Liberty and Rose streets in the amounts of $13,060 and $19,485.

Officials also approved removing the city from “stage 3” of its previously approved Economic Recession Plan, a sign the city is starting to rebuild.

The plan, which was approved nearly a year ago by the council in the wake of the pandemic, allowed for the city to make financial decisions in response to the economic downfall, including layoffs and budget cuts.

The plan laid out three “stages,” and officials placed the city into stage three, defined as a “significant” recession, opening the doors for it to take remedial action outlined.

According to the resolution terminating the plan, “the city implemented expenditure cuts throughout 2020 to address its shortfalls ... and subsequently built its 2021 Operating Budget based on the new reality of lower projected revenues it’s no longer necessary to remain in Stage 3 of the Economic Recession Plan.”

Thursday night’s meeting also brought together a new group of commissioners as the new class of council members finds their way around city hall. The committee elected longtime council member Doug Happel as the chair of F&P and council member Larry Sleznikow as vice chair.

All actions approved will need final approval from the La Crosse Common Council next Thursday.

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