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Is St Croix County Board oversized?

Five former St. Croix County Board members are backing a referendum to cut the board from 31 to 19 members, a reduction that failed to get board support two years ago.

Tom Caflisch, River Falls, said the former supervisors and the volunteers they've enlisted have filed petitions with 2,027 signatures, enough to force a referendum in November. He said he expects the group will turn in more signatures by the Tuesday, Sept. 9, deadline.

"It was easier getting it done than I thought it would be," said Caflisch of collecting 2,000 signatures.

He said petition circulators met with "overwhelming support" as they went door to door.

"(Residents) were in disbelief (at the size of the board)," said Caflisch. "They say, 'How do you get anything done?'"

A two-year-old state law allows citizens to force a referendum on county board size by collecting petitions signed by a number equal to a quarter of those who voted in the last supervisory election. In St. Croix County's case that would figure out to 1,950, said County Clerk Cindy Campbell.

Campbell said Friday she is still verifying the number of names on the petitions submitted. The challenge, she said, is to identify and toss out duplicate signatures if there are any.

In 2006 when Gov. Jim Doyle signed a bill allowing residents to force a referendum on county board size, St. Croix was among 34 of Wisconsin's 72 counties with boards of more than 25 members.

Since then voters have petitioned for and passed referendums to cut board size in seven counties, said Wisconsin Counties Association Legislative Director John Reinemann Tuesday. Three other county boards reduced their numbers on their own.

"We obviously know what goes on, how it functions," said Caflisch of the first-hand experiences he and other former supervisors have had with the inefficiency of a 31-member board.

Caflisch chaired the committee that studied county board size and recommended in August 2006 that the number of supervisors be trimmed from 31 to 21.

Although the committee made its report at the Aug. 15, 2006, County Board meeting, it never called for a vote on the proposal.

There was no point, said Caflisch, because it was obvious there wasn't enough support to adopt the recommendation.

"You could tell by the discussion, it's not going to go," said Caflisch. "There was no reason to vote on it."

He says too many board members are simply satisfied with the status quo.

"I think there's a certain amount of comfort that people have been running unopposed for years and years," said Caflisch.

The lack of candidates for the St. Croix County Board is one sign the board is too large, he said.

In April of this year, although all 31 seats were up for election, only four had contests. There were no candidates for two seats.

"When you have 25 (districts) that have no opposition, that tells you something," said Caflisch.

A smaller board would be more effective, he said. "You're more powerful one of 19 than you are one of 31."

The core group supporting the referendum includes Dick Kinney, Hudson, and former supervisors Lori Bernard, Hudson; Don Jordan, town of Hudson; Ralph Swenson, North Hudson; and Stan Krueger, Somerset.

Previously county boards could decrease their size once every 10 years, after the federal census.

In late 2005 the Wisconsin Legislature adopted Act 100 which allows county boards to downsize twice in a decade. The law also permits county voters to call for a referendum to determine the number of supervisors their board should have.

Once a valid petition to reduce county board size has been submitted, voters have 14 days to file one or more alternative petitions specifying a different number of supervisors to be elected. If more than one valid petition is submitted, voters would decide first whether to decrease the size of the board and then pick a proposed size.

According to a Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau report, proponents of smaller boards argue that they promote efficiency and encourage more contested elections. Supporters of larger boards insist they better represent diverse constituencies and it is more difficult for special interests to influence a larger number of supervisors.