To celebrate National County Government Month, La Crosse County Board Chair Monica Kruse took the opportunity to reflect on the contributions county programs make to local communities.
By Monica Kruse, La Crosse County Board Chair
La Crosse County government helps to improve people’s lives every day by delivering vital public services that keep our communities safe and strong.
April is National County Government Month, so we thought this would be a good time to showcase some of the services provided by the county and show how they help to build healthy, vibrant communities.
La Crosse County supports our physical infrastructure by maintaining 282 miles of county highways, and through programs that preserve farmland and improve water quality in our rivers and streams. County services also support the social infrastructure that helps our rural and urban communities thrive. This means everything from the 6,716 home-delivered meals we distributed to older adults in 2020 to our network of county libraries that loaned out 309,000 books and 78,000 digital items last year.
We are proud of the services and programs La Crosse County provides to our residents. That has been especially true during this past year, when county employees had to step up and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was most visible through the La Crosse County Health Department’s work, but all departments pitched in. Our Highway Department, for instance, worked with the Health Department to turn one of its garages in West Salem into a COVID-19 testing facility.
The pandemic brought new risks to our unsheltered population, which the county worked to mitigate. We partnered with the city and nonprofits to rent hotel rooms for those who needed to quarantine but had no other options. County human services staff provided over 1,500 hours of assistance to those experiencing homelessness in 2020, and that work continues in 2021.
Wherever possible, we seek to partner and coordinate with other local governments, nonprofits, and community groups. For example, the county’s emergency dispatch center works with all police and fire departments in the county, including our own sheriff’s deputies. The county’s dispatchers respond to 96% of 911 calls within 10 seconds.
At the same time as we work to provide vital public serves, we also have a duty to be responsible stewards of public funds and resources. We take that responsibility seriously. La Crosse County has the sixth lowest tax levy out of 72 Wisconsin Counties, according to the Wisconsin Counties Association, and our taxpayers pay less than half the state average. We also have a rock-solid credit rating thanks to our large and stable financial reserves.
Over 30 county programs and departments are self-sustaining, which helps keep our levy in check. This means those programs require no tax subsidy from the county. For example, the La Crosse County Solid Waste Department runs entirely on the revenue it brings in, including through regional partnerships with other counties and local businesses.
Hillview, our long-term care and assisted living campus in La Crosse, has never been on the county’s property tax levy. Lakeview, the county long-term care center in West Salem, has built partnerships with neighboring counties to help sustain its budget. In total, the county runs nine assisted living facilities and two long-term care centers that provide housing and services for older adults and people living with disabilities.
This is just a glimpse of what La Crosse County does. Most importantly, remember that if you live in La Crosse County, you have a say in how our programs and services are run. The policymaking body of the county is the 29-member elected La Crosse County Board, which represents the people of La Crosse County.
We want our county government to reflect the diversity of our residents, and to continually improve the services we provide. To do that, we’ll need your help. We encourage all of you to participate in county government, whether that means running for county board, attending meetings, or reaching out to tell us your ideas. Together, we will continue to flourish, take care of our beautiful corner of the world, and make this the county that others want to emulate!