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Updated: La Crosse County Board approves $170.8 million 2022 budget with lowered tax rate

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The 2022 La Crosse County Budget was given the final stamp of approval on Monday evening with a unanimous vote from supervisors.

The budget outlines $170,813,520 in expenses for the next year, which will in-part pay for help on the PFAS crisis, raises for county employees, legal help for those with housing insecurities and more.

In addition, residents will again see a decrease in the amount of property taxes it owes on the county’s portion of the bill. Its tax rate was lowered from $3.48 per every $1,000 of a property’s value to $3.21, meaning the average $100,000 home would see about $321 in county property taxes.

This is at least the fifth year in a row the county’s property tax rate has decreased, and La Crosse County administrator Steve O’Malley called the 2022 budget “one of the best budgets I’ve ever been able to help lead and produce.”

Steve O'Malley

O’Malley

“La Crosse County ends and will end 2021 in the strongest financial position that we’ve ever been in,” O’Malley said, taking pride in the fact that the county did not need to use any of its American Rescue Plan Act funding to supplement the budget.

The budget also includes a placeholder for the county’s $22.9 million in ARPA funds, but it doesn’t outline specific spending since those decisions are going through a separate process. This addition makes the county’s expenses look more like $193 million, but because the funds are not yet allocated and are in flux, the Tribune has not included them in the bottom line.

The board on Monday made only a handful of last-minute changes to the budget, including upping the annual dues for the La Crosse Area Development Corporation, a sticky issue moving its way through the board for several weeks.

The annual dues are part of the county’s economic development fund it pays to several different area organizations. This year, officials budgeted the funds out differently and LADCO saw the brunt of the funding cuts, with some alleging it was done because of frayed relationships between county and LADCO leadership.

Last week, the Executive Committee voted to boost the dues slightly, but officials petitioned again on Monday to increase the payment even more to reach half of what LADCO has received in the past at $17,500.

“I feel it’s a reasonable compromise,” said supervisor Matt Nikolay, who has served as the county’s representative with LADCO.

Leading up to the vote Monday, the board heard from several community members and stakeholders during a public hearing. Several spoke in favor of funding to support dredging on Lake Neshonoc, which the board voted against in August.

Others spoke in support of funding to support a study into a La Crosse County Historical Society museum, and others in support of dollars to provide legal help for those facing evictions or other housing issues.

“The importance of this fund,” said Hetti Brown of Couleecap, “is that a lot of the people that we work with, if they’ve been evicted or they’re facing eviction, that eviction stays on their record and produces housing instability for them for years to come.”

Brown said, “A lot of times that eviction, whether it’s been on their record or even just a filed eviction, it stays with them and sticks with them, and it prevents them from finding housing. Even when Couleecap provides that assistance.”

Hetti Brown

Hetti Brown 

The funding for this program is specifically for $30,000 per year for the next two years towards attorneys with Legal Action of Wisconsin, which specializes in eviction representation.

Other things this budget will help to fund includes $100,000 to help with the PFAS crisis on French Island, and $75,000 in improvements to the Omni Center in Onalaska.

O’Malley also highlighted that the budget increases the amount of full time employees for the first time in seven years, adding about 20 new positions.

The county will also offer a 2% across-the-board pay raise for its employees, as well as a salaried pay plan for library staff and market adjustments for staff at the Lakeview and Hillview assisted living campuses.

La Crosse County supervisors, however, will not receive a raise this cycle, the board approved.

In total, the largest pieces the new budget will help support will be human services, health and aging and courts and public safety. The county estimates it will see about $145,427,270 in total revenues to help support the budget, and will need to collect around $36.8 million in taxes to support its yearly finances.

The county’s spending is close to the amount it spent in 2021 at $170.6 million.

This is story was updated on Nov. 9 to include more details about the budget.

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