Mike Heine/The Week
(Published April 04, 2007, 1:02 p.m.)
Prediction: There will be competition for seats on the Walworth County Board in the April 2008 election.
A citizen-sponsored referendum to downsize the county board from 25 to 11 members passed Tuesday 8,061 to 6,956. The referendum was put forward by a conservative taxpayer's group called Citizens for Responsible Government.
"I'm disappointed, but the voters have spoken," said Supervisor Joe Guido, a supporter of the larger board. "We worked really hard to try and bring our side to the public. We failed."
Out of four Wisconsin counties facing a downsizing referendum Tuesday, Walworth County was the only one to shrink.
A majority of the board favored staying the same size or downsizing after the 2010 census is done, when district boundaries need to be redrawn.
"This terrifies me," Supervisor Margaret Downing said.
She fears that a majority of six votes could now wipe out the county's popular, but non-mandated services such as Lakeland School or Lakeland Health Care Center.
"I don't think a majority of the people understood what they were voting for," Downing added. "I think they saw, 'Less government is better government,' and that's how they voted."
Board Chairwoman Ann Lohrmann favored a downsizing. She even gathered signatures for the petition that got the question on the ballot.
"I think most people want a smaller government, and 25 is too big," Lohrmann said. "I think the people have spoken, and they want a smaller board. This is great."
When the board downsized from 35 to 25 in 2002, there were 16 contested races, seven of them pitting incumbents against each other. Last year, there were two contested races, only one with a challenged incumbent.
"It's going to be a lot easier for people to run for office now," said Bret Strong, Walworth County Citizens for Responsible Government chapter chairman. "They don't have to worry about the same old people getting in. We're going to help everybody every step of the way who wants to run.
"Our objective is to get good, honest people into office to run a $147 million operation. The people there now can't do it."
The county board will have to decide how it wants to have district lines redrawn. The last redistricting was done by the county's land use and resource management director and staff from the geographic information services department.
Statutes say the new lines must be created by Nov. 15 using existing ward boundaries.
The lines must use the 2000 census, so each new district will have about 8,400 people. Based on the latest census estimates of 101,000, each district will have closer to 9,200 people.
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