‘This is a job that requires a 100 percent commitment’: La Crosse mayor looks back on 2020

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Managing a citywide emergency isn’t new to Mayor Tim Kabat.

“There’s always that expectation and the concern especially over a weather event,” Kabat said.

Those are usually short-term.

“And then you can go back to a more normal circumstance,” Kabat said.

COVID is proving to be the complete opposite.

“We saw I think it was about a $4.5 million shortfall that we saw this year on our budget,” Kabat said.

That large of a deficit forced the city to resort to hiring freezes, furloughs and even some layoffs.

“And that was very difficult,” Kabat said.

The mayor says a big portion of those furloughs and layoffs were from the Public Library and the La Crosse Center.

“But, we have a plan with the both the La Crosse Center and the (Public) Library to start incrementally going back to where we were pre-COVID,” Kabat said.

2020 also wasn’t without controversy for the mayor.

“The Hiawatha statue had a life of controversy honestly ever since it was first erected back in the 1960s,” Kabat said.

It was Kabat who requested the city take down the statue once and for all in the summer.

“It was time to do that,” Kabat said. “It’s been a bit of a challenge because I heard from a lot of community members who were upset.”

His wife, Christy, also ended up in the public eye.

“I think as this case evolves, and especially as we go through the process, more information will be shared that shows it wasn’t simply my wife’s fault or that she was the instigator,” Kabat said.

According to the La Crosse Police department, Christy Kabat was the instigator of the incident where she was pepper-sprayed after standing in front of a minivan during a protest in May.

“It is unfortunate that that happened, obviously,” he said. “I think that is something that everybody wishes would be different.”

Kabat will not be running for a third term, a decision he says has nothing to do with the incident involving his wife.

“This is a job that requires a 100 percent commitment, really your mind, body and spirit to serve in this capacity,” Kabat said.

But before he signs off, there are some accomplishments from this year to look back on.

“The park refurbishments…and especially the timing for additional trails was good,” Kabat said.

That’s only just a glimpse of what managing a city in a pandemic looks like.

“I know that we still have a ways to go,” Kabat said.

And Kabat will tell you he can’t wait until the calendar flips to 2021.

“I’m going to take a little time after April just to have a little time for myself and my family,” Kabat said.

In the new year, the mayor says the city is getting ready to do $62 million in repairs to the wastewater treatment plant. A new fire station on the north side is set to go under construction, as well as remodeling done to Fire Station One.

Repairs on Jackson Street and South Avenue are also expected to be completed next year. La Crosse Street won’t be repaved until 2022.