The public got a chance to weigh in on a proposed wheel tax Tuesday that would cost La Crosse vehicle owners $25 per vehicle, but generate $1.2 million to keep up with badly needed fixes.
It was the first of two scheduled for the week, with the second on Thursday August 30 from 5 to 6:30 PM at La Crosse City Hall. Some residents expressed that the streets were a big priority, but questioned whether the wheel tax is the best solution.
Mayor Tim Kabat said the most commonly brought-up concern is the city seemingly prioritizing “unnecessary spending”. Over the last 5 years, La Crosse has seen a downward trend of spending as a whole, just over a million dollars less. During that same time, spending on transportation increased by $7 million.
“We’ve heard that message over the last several years and we have done exactly what people are saying that we should be doing,” he said. “We’re spending a lot more on our street infrastructure today than we did just a few years ago.”
Combined with the tax levy and TIF district funding, the mayor said they have doubled yearly fixes from approximately 4 miles to 8 in 2018. The city reached into reserve funding to do that however, and that option has become very limited, according to Kabat.
Mayor Kabat said he wants to avoid falling any further behind at a point where they have just started to make progress.
“Obviously a new tax, I don’t think anybody’s excited,” he said. “But we’re really trying to develop alternatives so that we can keep our infrastructure program and the repairs that we’re making going.”
During the meeting, Council Member Doug Happel suggested studying the effect on taxes of raising their self imposed capital improvement borrowing cap, which sits just over $7 million. Happel wanted to find out whether raising that limit to 9 or 10 million would have a minimal effect while still generating what the city needs. It’s unclear whether that would guarantee additional funding would be specifically earmarked for roads. The wheel tax is required to be used for transportation.
The mayor has placed some blame on the capitol and Governor Walker. Kabat said that shared revenue and state aid have remained stagnant, as the costs of repair continue to climb. The city did receive extra funding this year, but according to Kabat, aid had been cut significantly in previous years rendering that increase more or less ineffectual.
Legislation concerning the wheel tax is expected to be at the common council by October.