Amid yet another national government shutdown and hyper-partisan lame-duck session in Madison, we continue at the local level working and providing service to thousands of citizens each day.
We face complex and difficult challenges in providing these services, as local governments must balance budgets while facing cost increases and limits in how we fund operations. Few of us relish paying property taxes. However, these taxes fund an incredible quality of life, as 2018 was another excellent year for our community.
In 2018, we measured that excellence through our progressive neighborhood program, which added two more police resource officers. We reached a momentous agreement with Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance to facilitate advanced life support by our on-scene firefighter paramedics, improving the health and safety of our residents and visitors.
We completed a re-do of the Copeland Park splash pad, remade Leuth Park with new pump track and held a groundbreaking for the all-abilities playground at Trane Park. We also established a new pop-up library program to deliver learning opportunities to all of our neighborhoods, and established a new MTU circulator route that connects residents to downtown, health care and grocery shopping.
And most importantly, we fixed and maintained water and sewer infrastructure and repaved six miles of city streets including stretches of Cass, Losey Boulevard and Avon.
We gauge that quality of life through our community development programs, which saw more housing constructed by the city, developers and our nonprofit partners. Ground was broken on the Garden Terrace affordable housing and community center project, and a new North Side façade grant program was started — which will see nine businesses make improvements to their buildings. We also saw expansions by Dura-Tech and Kwik Trip, adding jobs and tax base. Total citywide investment resulted in net new construction of more than $53.5 million last year.
We assess our progress through the changes made at City Hall customer service, which now includes accepting credit and debit cards and a better clearance rate on complaints received through our online system. We hosted public sessions about funding our infrastructure. We facilitated three weeks of early voting this past election — without a hitch and with record turnout. We accomplished all of this while still lowering our property tax rate. That $12.04 tax rate is the lowest it’s been since 2007.
In their book, "The New Localism," authors Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak describe a problem-solving practice and governing philosophy that is nonpartisan, pragmatic and increasingly focused on linking local communities to the growth sectors of the global economy in ways that are both inclusive and environmentally sustainable.
During 2018, La Crosse moved forward on both fronts. In October, we celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day, demonstrating both inclusiveness and a hope for better relationships. We also launched the mayor’s home energy challenge, which provides incentives to enhance our housing stock while reducing our carbon footprint. We completed habitat restoration efforts in our blufflands and re-opened a new “flow” trail in Hixon Forest, led by our wonderful volunteers and non-profits.
In 2019, we are planning for many additional positive developments. We will break ground on a substantial renovation and expansion to the La Crosse Center, which will drive regional tourism. We hope to finalize our transformative cooperative boundary agreement with the town of Shelby.
In 2019, we will begin improvements to three critical stormwater lift stations courtesy of a federal grant and re-do seven miles of city streets including sections of Losey Boulevard, Gillette Street and the three bridges over the CP Rail tracks.
Our airport will realize new service to Detroit beginning in March, which expands opportunities for travel to and from La Crosse. We will continue our plans and work on advancing a new historic and cultural museum, and make progress on developing new fire stations. We will also make long overdue investments in our senior centers.
The city of La Crosse will continue our pragmatic problem-solving and improve customer service and transparency with technology upgrades to our financial systems. We will continue tackling challenges — large and small. From addressing our leaf pickup program, which has been negatively impacted by the focus on repaving more miles of streets, to the significant health issues and well-being of our citizens.
We will work with other units of government, civic and non-profit groups, businesses and our health-care institutions to address our opioid crisis, mental-health problems, and help find permanent housing and case management for our homeless citizens.
Thankfully and because of our partnerships and spirit of collaboration, government still works well at the local level. We take our responsibilities for service and La Crosse’s quality of life very seriously and don’t back down from the difficulties that confront us.
Here’s to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2019.