Tosa to stay silent about County Board size

City has history of avoiding referendums on regional issues

Jan. 11, 2012

Whether to reduce the size of the Milwaukee County Board may be a worthy question, but it's not one municipalities should be asking, Wauwatosa officials decided Tuesday, opting not to hold an advisory referendum on the matter.

Wauwatosa has a unique relationship with the county, as it is home to numerous county parks, the research park and the mental health complex. In addition, the city is contracted to provide fire service to the County Grounds. Reducing local representation - or at a minimum possibly alienating the people they must work with at the county level - may not be in the city's best interest, several aldermen said Tuesday.

"I support reduction in size of the County Board but not in this mechanism," Alderman Dennis McBride said. "We are a municipality, we should deal with municipal issues."

The city's Legislation, Licensing and Communications Committee shared McBride's sentiment and unanimously decided against a local referendum asking about cutting the size of the County Board in half.

McBride likened the proposed referendum to other questions that have been floated and subsequently rejected in past years. Wauwatosa has no place saying whether it supported the war in Iraq, a federal issue; or requiring voters to show an ID at the poll, a state issue, McBride said.

The County Board rejected putting a referendum about its size on the April 3 ballot countywide, at which point the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council of Milwaukee County - a group of city mayors and village board presidents - discussed the issue. There was no clear direction coming from that body except to let the individual councils and boards grapple with the issue, Common Council President Eric Meaux said.

"There wasn't any huge consensus on this by the mayors, and that gives me some pause," he said.

County Supervisor Joseph Rice, who represents the North Shore district, was the initial push behind the move to trim the County Board. He cited a potential $110,000 annual savings in compensation, office expenses and support staff for each eliminated supervisor position. He argued that a smaller board would focus more on policy making vs. "micromanaging of our departments."

While more difficult than a countywide question, he hoped each of the municipalities in Milwaukee County would put the question on their ballot so the board would still get feedback.

Supervisor Jim "Luigi" Schmitt, who represents Tosa as well as parts of West Allis and Milwaukee, sees county issues that affect Wauwatosa growing. He pointed out that the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Innovation Park, the Zoo Interchange project and proposed high-voltage power lines are all coming to a head.

"Wauwatosa is very involved and deserves a full-time representative," he said.

Schmitt estimates it takes about 1,000 hours to walk his district, and that doesn't even include time spent stopping to talk to the 52,000 constituents. Reducing the board size - doubling the number of constituents each supervisor is responsible to - leads to less representation, he said.

"The referendum is flawed," Schmitt said. "If people are unhappy with my job, they can just vote me out."


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