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Decrease in size has increased workload for Walworth County board members

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ANN MARIE AMES
July 15, 2010
— The whole state watched in 2007 when voters cut the Walworth County Board from 25 members to 11.

The matter has since dropped from the public radar, but a small group of people continues to feel the change: the 11 board members.


“We knew the workload was going to be more,” board member Jerry Grant told the Gazette. “We knew it was going to be a lot more. I can see board members getting burned out.”


Grant earlier this month wrote a letter to his peers suggesting they talk about increasing the number of board members by four.


The board Tuesday referred the issue to the executive committee, which meets Monday.


Board members serve on four committees, which is time consuming and information-intensive, Grant said.


The time is ripe to consider the matter as the county waits for the results of the 2010 census, Grant said. The census results could result in new county districts, he said.


The rules for an increase would be based on the same law that allowed the public to reduce the number of board members by direct petition, County Administrator Dave Bretl said.


It’s a new law and will require some study, but Bretl thinks the law allows the board to propose new districts by July 2011.


The board would then hold public hearings and solicit input from municipalities, Bretl said.


A final map would have to be approved before December 2011, when people will take out papers to run for office in the April 2012 election.


Once the new districts are set, the law would only allow boards sizes to be reduced—not increased—until the 2020 census, Bretl said. A downsizing could come as a result of a public petition or the will of the board.


BOARD SIZE TIMELINE

The issue or reducing the size of the Walworth County Board was controversial in 2007, when county residents voted 8,061 to 6,956 in favor of cutting the board to 11 members.


Here’s how it happened:


2002—The Walworth County Board votes to reduce its membership from 35 to 25.


Jan. 4, 2006—Wisconsin Act 100 becomes a law. The new law allows county boards to reduce themselves or be downsized by citizen petition and referendum once between censuses.


Before January 2006, county boards could change size only once every 10 years after the federal census.


May 2006—Citizens for Responsible Government files an intent to petition taxpayers to reduce the board 15 members. The group withdraws the intent when some board members start talking about downsizing the board.


June 2006—The board votes 12-10 to not discuss a proposal to downsize to 21 members. The majority of the board is in favor of waiting until the 2010 census before downsizing.


September 2006—Citizens for Responsible Government files an intent to petition to reduce the board to 11 members.


April 2007—In a binding referendum, residents vote to reduce the size of the board.


April 2008—Eleven board members take seats on the board. Nine are incumbents.



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