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Downsizing process difficult, but doable

Process must begin soon

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published April. 6, 2007, 1:38 p.m.)

The Walworth County Board has about seven months to plan how it will shrink from 25 members to 11.

Voters Tuesday passed a referendum to cut the size of the board by 14.

The board needs to start making decisions soon, preferably by the board's April 17 meeting, said Deputy Corporation Counsel Michael Cotter. The plan has to be finished by Nov. 15 so potential candidates can know their district and decide if they want to run.

The next election for county supervisor is April 2008.

Among the decisions to be made is whether county personnel will draw new district lines or if that job should be given to a private firm, such as engineering consultants, lawyers or the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, Cotter said.

After lines are drafted, the county must host public hearings, Cotter said.

According to statutes, the new districts must be:

Equal to the number of supervisors.

As contiguous as possible, placing whole municipalities or contiguous parts of the same municipality within a district.

"Substantially equal in population according to the most recent countywide federal census."

The 2000 census showed about 92,000 residents in Walworth County. When created, the populations of the existing 25 county board districts were within 3 percent, each with about 3,680 residents.

With 11 districts, each will have about 8,360 residents, based on 2000 census figures. If current population estimates are used, districts will have closer to 9,200 each.

Cotter was unsure if the new districts would meet the equal representation requirements as closely as current districts. District sizes might vary by more than 3 percent, he said.

That could be a problem if residents argue they are not equally represented by their supervisors, said Craig Thompson, legislative director for the Wisconsin Counties Association.

"If you can't do it in a way for a reasonable one-person-one-vote, if the variance gets too big, someone can have a legitimate complaint," Thompson said.

The Marinette County Board in early 2006 wanted to downsize from 30 to 27, but the county board changed its mind because 27 cannot be evenly divided into 30. Marinette County officials found they could not preserve district lines and combine some of the 30 districts to create 27 districts with equal population.

Other Wisconsin county boards, however, have been able to downsize to a non-divisible number of districts.

Cotter feels it's doable but difficult in Walworth County.

"Act 100 complicated things by using the old census data, but that's the only choice we have," he said. "It all depends on how you define 'substantially equal.' Could it get challenged that (new districts) are not substantially equal? Absolutely."

The lines will have to be redrawn again after the 2010 census.


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