Taxpayer group seeks board reduction, again

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Sept. 26, 2006, 1:38 p.m.)

The Walworth County Citizens for Responsible Government chapter filed an intent to petition residents to reduce the county board from 25 to 11 members.

The conservative watchdog group is seeking to eliminate more than half of the board's positions because of high taxes and poor efforts to reduce taxpayer burden, said Bret Strong, local Citizens for Responsible Government executive chairman.

The county board also failed to act on a motion to reduce itself, Strong said.

Citizens for Responsible Government has long supported lowering taxes or at least slowing tax increase and made its filing of intent to petition Sept. 18.

The county's proposed budget was released with a 9.82 percent increase in the levy, from $49.2 million this year to $54 million in 2007.

"Our county supervisors are so off base," Strong said. "All we want, the people of this county, all they want is to enjoy the same minimal tax increase as our neighbors."

The nearly 10 percent hike in the levy is far too much, Strong said.

"People are going to tell (supervisors) that we are not going to accept that," he said. "Either change your way of thought, or we are going to change you."

The preliminary budget notes that Walworth County offers three non-mandated services not offered in all counties - special education, a skilled nursing facility and countywide zoning.

In May, Citizens for Responsible Government filed an intent to petition taxpayers for a board reduction to 15 members.

It withdrew that intent a month later because some county board members started discussions to reduce the board.

But in June, supervisors voted 12-10 to not discuss a proposal to downsize to 21 members.

The executive committee discussed downsizing a week later at its meeting, but took no action. The county board has not revisited the issue since.

Citizens for Responsible Government never filed signatures by the July 3 deadline to have a referendum question on the September ballot.

About 2,100 signatures are required to have a referendum question go to voters. Citizens for Responsible Government hopes to have enough endorsements to have the question reach voters in April 2007.

There is not enough time, statutorily, to gather and verify signatures before the November election.

A reduction couldn't take place until the April 2008 election, when board positions are up for election again.

Supervisor Joyce Ketchpaw said Wisconsin has larger county boards to better represent constituents. She agreed that Walworth County could benefit from a board reduction, but suggested 19 or 21 members.

"It will make the board more efficient," said Ketchpaw, who was one of three supervisors who proposed the reduction to 21 this summer.

Reducing to 11, however, might lead to poorer representation, less debate and increased salaries for supervisors, she said.

"How does one supervisor best represent three townships and one city?" Ketchpaw asked hypothetically. "What happens is you become more isolated and may not be representing who you supposedly are."

In June, Supervisor Dorothy Burwell said it would cost the county and municipalities more money to have fewer supervisors because of the cost to redistrict supervisor boundaries.

She also thought the proposal for 15 supervisors would mean a board member's work would be almost full-time. That would make it difficult for residents with jobs to serve on the board.




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