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County to study smaller board

St. Croix County supervisors voted last week to study the feasibility of cutting the number of County Board seats by at least 10.

That would mean trimming the number from the current 31 to 21 or fewer. A report is due back to the board in August.

Administration Committee members said the study is pre-emptive - if supervisors don't cut the board size, citizens will, and the new number could disrupt county government.

A new state law, signed by the governor in January, gives counties the opportunity to trim their boards between censuses and allows citizens to petition for a referendum to reduce the size of the County Board. Voters could also determine the exact number of supervisors.

"There are people out there with referendums ready to go, and I guarantee you, it isn't going to be 19," said Supervisor Tom Caflisch, River Falls. He said reducing to 19 would allow the board to assign three supervisors to each committee and no one would have to attend more meetings than they do now.

Caflisch said most county voters think 31 members are too many, and this will give the board the opportunity to study the matter for five months.

"Do we want to get smaller and offer less representation?" asked Supervisor Esther Wentz, New Richmond. She wondered if it makes sense to cut the size of the board in the fastest growing county in the state.

There needs to be discussion about how the county is run before a decision is made to reduce the board, said Supervisor Ron Raymond, town of Hudson. He suggested discussing the issue during the board's April goal-setting session and getting a consensus before proceeding.

If voters approve a referendum to reduce the board to nine members, it will have to be cut, warned Caflisch. "And you know what will happen then: You guys, the ones of you that are left, go figure out what happens."

Western Wisconsin gets much of its news from Minnesota where five and seven-member county boards are common, so those could be numbers that seem workable to local voters, said Supervisor John Mortensen, New Richmond. If a referendum to cut to that number were adopted, the County Board's hands would be tied, he said.

The resolution to study reduction was adopted with only Raymond and Charlie Grant, Hammond, voting no.