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County board mulls self-imposed downsizing

Douglas County supervisors are considering a plan to cut the size of their board. Two weeks ago, voters narrowly defeated a measure that would have eliminated 75 percent of supervisors. During his Thursday report to the county board, Chairman Dou...

Douglas County supervisors are considering a plan to cut the size of their board.

Two weeks ago, voters narrowly defeated a measure that would have eliminated 75 percent of supervisors. During his Thursday report to the county board, Chairman Doug Finn said the message was loud and clear.

Just 18 votes prevented the 28-member board from downsizing to seven. Finn believes if voters had been asked to cut the board in half, the measure would have succeeded. Rather than tempt fate, he wants supervisors to formulate a plan that will be more palatable to residents.

"I think we need to send a message," Finn said. "I think we need to be proactive about this ... If we don't, someone else will do it for us."

He proposes to establish a revised number of supervisors following the 2010 U.S. Census, when the county is required to reconfigure districts based on population changes. His own recommendation is to align metro supervisory districts with the Superior City Council and have six or seven rural supervisors, depending on population, to represent towns and villages. Supervisory districts all must represent roughly the same number of people.

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Currently, 18 supervisors represent city districts and 10 represent the 21 rural towns and villages.

"I think it would be good to go along with the city," said Supervisor Nick Baker, whose district spans portions of two council districts. He believes the number makes sense.

Supervisor Rich Thompson said some rural residents fear they'll lose representation.

"I don't know if the city number is right or wrong," said Supervisor Jack Sweeney. "In theory, whatever the number is, everyone is represented." But he would like to see more options before making a decision.

"I have no problem reducing the board, but as a taxpayer, I would like to know what this is going to cost the taxpayer," Supervisor Jack O'Brien said.

Not all supervisors are convinced the board needs to shrink to be effective. Supervisor Bob Browne questioned how the workload and pay scale would be affected by a smaller board.

"There's lots of questions," he said.

Finn acknowledged the county may have to reconsider its committee structure.

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"I would rather us stay at this size or something comparable," said Supervisor Adam Ritscher. "I think this is a much more direct and approachable number to have 28 people ... to approach, to talk to, to share their concerns ... The people out there that want to reduce the board are coming at it with false information -- that it costs more money, that it's unwieldy."

Ritscher said it's important to better-educate the public by providing more information.

Supervisor Tom Stewart's not convinced everyone wants a smaller board either. Voters in his district -- Solon Springs and Highland -- divided 7-3 in favor of a larger board. Rural voters overruled city voters, 55 percent of whom favored a seven-member board.

However, not all towns and villages favored a larger board. Voters in the towns of Dairyland and Wascott, and Superior and Oliver villages, favored a smaller board.

Supervisor Kay Johnson isn't convinced the vote was representative because the snow storm on election day resulted in fewer-than-expected voters turning out at the polls. But, she said, "I think we need to be proactive.

And Supervisor Larry Quam agrees. After 41?2 years of working to shrink the board after the 2010 Census in the joint City-County Committee, Quam plans to put discussion of aligning county and council districts back on the front burner, starting with the committee's meeting at 4 p.m. May 14.

"There were a lot of things in the works, but we put everything on hold once this referendum came up," said Quam, who introduced the idea of a smaller board nearly five years ago.

Shelley Nelson can be reached at (715) 395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com .

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