If we’ve learned nothing else during the COVID-19 pandemic, we should understand that — even at a distance — we’ve never been more reliant upon others for basic and emergency services.
We also know that life won’t return to normal for any of us — our families or our businesses — any time soon.
We’ll need to look at life differently.
Let’s add local government to the list of things we must examine for efficiencies and opportunities for collaboration.
Our local governments are going to be slammed with the need to cut costs because they’ve lost precious revenues from taxes on commerce and tourism.
In La Crosse County, it’s the perfect time for taxpayers to ask tough questions and make critical decisions about the costs we pay and the services we receive.
Do we need 11 fire departments in La Crosse County?
We’re one of Wisconsin’s smaller counties — 451 square miles with a population of about 120,000.
Do we need seven police departments — not counting the county sheriff’s department or state patrol? That question is especially pointed when you consider local police departments are having a tough time recruiting officers.
And, there are areas of overlap like the town of Campbell, where the La Crosse Regional Airport — operated by the city — is located. In Campbell, from time to time you can see squads from Campbell’s police force, city of La Crosse, county sheriff’s deputies and state troopers patrolling.
We have 26 units of local government — cities, villages, towns — not counting La Crosse County government.
That’s also not counting school boards or the technical college district.
Some of this is structural, of course — and the state plays a role, too. It doesn’t exactly make consolidation easy. That requires examination, too.
We’re still living with borders created in horse-and-buggy days, when we wanted to make sure we could get to the courthouse and back home during daylight.
From education to business to government, we’ve all learned some tricks and used more technology in the past few weeks.
One good example: County government in La Crosse County has enabled far more people to work from home much faster than anticipated.
It likely will change how the county and other units of government can provide services and options for public meetings — crucial at a time when it’s inevitable that cuts in costs and services are looming.
Just about everyone says they favor regional collaboration.
But just about every elected official thinks inside individual borders — always with the notion that it serves their own voters.
But does it? Are ego and territorial control part of the problem?
There is a greater good that requires our focus and follow-through.
That greater good always comes up when we discuss extending public transit, funding the La Crosse Center, planning regional transportation and a regional sewage district and fire protection and police protection and other government services.
It’s tempting to say we never make progress, but that’s not true. There has been some progress on border agreements, joint purchasing and other initiatives, including public-private collaboration.
But, too often, it is slow and incremental.
Now is the time to explore how we can pool resources, reduce layers of government, cut costs and continue to provide quality service.
Our state motto is Forward. Together, we need to look to the future and embrace the opportunity to use more regional collaboration to develop better, more equitable and efficient service for all.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!