Public input sought on county board size
A Marathon County Board Size Task Force on Thursday said it would take public comment on how big the board should be in November in order to present a recommendation to the full county board in December.
The committee said it wants the public to weigh in on keeping the current 38-member board or, possibly, reducing it to 32 or 27 members.
Committee chairman John Robinson, Wausau, said it would likely not be possible to hold in-person public hearings or listening sessions due to the COIVID-19 pandemic. The county will, otherwise, call for public input at virtual listening sessions. The county will get the word out about the sessions through traditional media and social media.
To date, committee members said their criteria for a county board size includes efficiencies, representation, time commitment of board members and organizational practicalities.
Committee members were surveyed on what they thought about the three optional board sizes.
In the responses, there was not a lot of interest in changing the Marathon County board size, the largest in the United States.
Committee member Craig McEwen, Schofield, said the current, larger board was best at providing representation for both Wausau metro and rural county communities, as well as allowing for greater diversity.
Sandi Cihlar, Mosinee, who suggested a 41-member board, said slimming the board could “close the door on empowering new people to get involved and stifle local voices.”
Tim Buttke, town of Stettin, questioned why the county should change the current system. Arnold Schlei, town of Easton, said the current 38-member board provided better “geographic” and “one-on-one” representation.
Dave Eckmann, a citizen member of the committee, questioned changing the county board size now “due to uncertainties.”
Committee members agreed that a 38, 27 or 32 member county board should be considered, but when asked what would be the compelling reasons to change board size, committee members didn’t say much.
Board members said the committee first needed to establish the overall size of the board and, from there, recommend how many people should serve on each standing committee.
Currently, the county has six standing committees with seven members on each.
Jacob Langenhahn said one advantage of a 27 member county board is that each standing committee could have five members apiece. He noted, however, that smaller committees weren’t necessarily more effective. He said the Environmental Resources Committee, which he chairs, works well with 10 members.
Some committee members have said they have already heard from rural constituents about possibly slimming the size of the county board.
“We have been hearing concerns about changes,” Cihlar said. “People in the rural areas think they will lose representation.”
Robinson said that shrinking the county board would not give urban communities more power because all supervisory districts would get proportionately larger.
Schlei acknowledged that would be true but that rural districts could become so large that people would feel they would not be as well represented. “That’s where the problem will come in,” he said.
Schlei said the county board should be large enough to represent all communities in the county, including newer Hispanic residents who work on the county’s dairy farms.