It took hours of debate and discussion, but La Crosse County officials passed the 2014 budget earlier this morning without raising taxes.
The vote was 25 to 1 for the $161 million budget.
It includes pay freezes for county employees and cutting health and dental insurance for county board supervisors.
Tara Johnson, the county board chair, said perhaps the toughest decision to make in this budget was to cut the home health care services program.
“In seven of the last 11 years, we've lost significant amounts of money,” said Johnson. “We've been pulling in $100,000-$150,000 or more in some years in property tax levy to supplement what we're getting in the insurance payments for those services. So it's a cost that we can't continue to sustain.”
The home health care program helps upwards of 40 families in the county with medical and personal care.
This is the not the first time the home care service program was in jeopardy of being cut.
In 2007, the program was saved because at the time, these kinds of services were only available through the county.
Johnson said part of the reason to discontinue the program is because there are now five other agencies in the area that provide these services, but one local family said it's just not the same.
In a tearful plea, Andrea Reising stood in front of county leaders Tuesday, begging for them to save a program she desperately relies on.
“Since I’ve been here in La Crosse, nobody has serviced us better than County Home Health Care,” she said Tuesday night.
“When I went into it, I was still hoping they could change their minds,” said Johnson Wednesday.
Her 17-year-old-son, Luke, was born with cerebral palsy, mental retardation, a seizure disorder and cortical blindness.
He needs around the clock care, something his mother says is getting harder as he gets older.
“I worry about how long I can still do this,” said Reising. “I'm 50 now, and he's getting bigger and bigger, it seems.”
For about 10 hours a week, aids with the county home health care program come to help provide some relief.
“They bathe him, they shave him, brush his teeth, change his diaper, change the bedding when he has soiled all over,” said Reising. “It's very helpful. Then I can run and do some errands, and especially for my sanity.”
She said it's taken her years to trust her helpers.
“They've become my family,” said Reising. “They're very understanding and compassionate and devoted to his care.”
Now, she can only fear the worst as the county begins phasing out the program next year.
“That's disappointing,” said Reising. “Another stranger coming into your house, I can't stand it. You don't know who (the) new people are. I had new people come into my house, they have stolen from me.”
There's nothing she can do or say to change the decision now. All she can do is prepare for the long road ahead to find new helpers that she can trust.
“I guess I (have) got to go with it,” said Reising. “I can't say no. I couldn't do it alone. I would never give him up. I will do this until it kills me.”
Starting in January, county workers will work one-on-one with the clients to help them find alternative services.
There is money set aside in the budget to help make the transition seamless.
Dissolving the program should take about six months.
The program employs 10 part-time people. The county will also work with them to help them find new placements.
The La Crosse County Board has passed the budget 25-to-1 Wednesday morning.
La Crosse County Board Supervisor Andrew Londre tweeted after the vote, stating, "La Crosse County continues to have one of the lowest tax rates in the state while providing quality services to our residents."
Home health care services in La Crosse County will be phased out in January 2014. There are 10 people who work part time for the program. County Board Chair Tara Johnson says the program has been losing money for years. In 2014, the county will work with the clients' alternative services.
The last time the county considered cutting the program was 2007. At the time, this type of program was only available through the county. Right now there are about five other companies in the community that provide similar services.
Balancing a budget might come at the cost of home health care services in La Crosse County.
The County Board started finalizing numbers for its budget Tuesday night. The process is expected to wrap up Wednesday.
County Administrator Steve O'Malley put the budget together based on committee recommendations. He put it in front of the board Tuesday night.
County Board Chairperson Tara Johnson says there's one major change from last year, and that cuts county home health care services. It was proposed as a way to hold the line on taxes.
A La Crosse mother who's son was born with cerebral palsy gave an impassioned speech asking for board members to change their minds. "It is him (references her son) and me and these ladies who come into my house and it takes usually 2-3 years before you can even trust somebody with your child like Luke. Just the feeling that I'm going to lose them puts me into a state of anxiety," said Andrea Reising.
The County Board will be faced with the difficult decision Wednesday morning. "This push to keep local tax dollars as low as possible up against the demand for services," said County Board Chair Tara Johnson.
The chair expects the budget to be finalized before midday Wednesday.