County governments around the state are facing internal and external pressures to make changes in how they function. Some counties are examining a reduction in board size and other counties are looking at restructuring committees and bylaws. A few counties have developed strategic plans, which have included building capacity within the board members themselves and more clearly defining roles between the board and department heads. A few counties have restructured departments around broad and related county functions.
This webpage lists resources for common topics in county discussions on board size reductions, restructuring and strategic planning. As a part of these resources, county reports and studies are shared.
County Board Size Reduction
Counties can reduce the size of their boards through resolution or by petition and referendum once between each decennial census. 2005 Wisconsin Act 100 allowed the reduction of county boards through petition and referendum.
2005 Wisconsin Act 100 – (PDF file, 15 kb, 3 pages)
Legislative Reference Bureau Brief 06-1: County Board Size Reduction – (PDF file, 41 kb, 2 pages)
Map of County Board Size – (PDF file, 676 kb, 1 page)
Reducing the county board size through petition and referendum raises many of the questions and issues surrounding direct legislation by citizens. There is a great deal of literature on the pros and cons of direct legislation. In Wisconsin, citizens in cities and villages have this authority and the following articles by the Wisconsin League of Municipalities describes this authority, its limits, and challenges surrounding its use.
Direct Legislation by Curt Witynski – (PDF file, 2.2 Mb, 3 pages)
Mount Horeb: An Invalid Blueprint and Use of Direct Legislation Improper Where Proposed Ordinance Repeals Existing Ordinance – (PDF file, 722 kb, 7 pages)
An Ordinance Providing for Advisory Public Referenda Procedures – (PDF file, 16 kb, 4 pages)
You may also wish to review the Douglas County website to look at information the study committee used to reach its recommendations, including county board size throughout the state and administrative structures and pay levels.
Counties that are interested in restructuring their committee system may do so for a number of reasons. One reason may be that a reduction in county board size imposes too many committee posts on remaining board members. Another reason may be that the committee system becomes too strong at the expenses of the overall board in making effective policy and decisions. State statutes require counties to have certain committees, such as the Aging Commission, and may dictate committee membership. Counties that have restructured their committees have reduced the overall standing committees to five or six functional committees, folding previous committee membership into these standing committees. When this is not possible, such as with the Aging Commission, that Commission reports to the committee concerned with aging and long-term care. The two counties listed below have followed this route. Note that LaCrosse County also reorganized its departments around functional areas.
Restructuring efforts often include a discussion of whether an administrator or an executive should replace a county coordinator, the latter of which is often county board chair or clerk. The resources below show the statutory authority of each type of county administrative structure and their frequency in the state.
Tenure of Wisconsin County Executives, Administrators, and Coordinators – (PDF file, 92 kb, 2 pages)
County Administrative Structures Fact Sheet – (PDF file, 219 kb, 7 pages)
County Administrative Structure Map – (PDF file, 308 kb, 1 page)
County Strategic Planning and Thinking
Some counties have completed strategic plans that focus on their mission and long-term goals, which include organizational as well as operational changes. Other counties, such as LaCrosse, has undertaken strategic thinking processes to reorganize the board and departments to more collaboratively work together to achieve short and long-term goals. The December 12th WisLine program below features the strategic efforts of Marathon, Burnett and LaCrosse counties. The Sauk County report is also featured.
Access the audiostream of the December 12, 2006, WisLine (enter countystrat when prompted for password): “The Many Roads to County Strategic Planning”
Printed materials from the December 12 WisLine – (PDF file, 870 kb, 42 pages)
Sauk County Report – (Microsoft word file, 69 kb, 22 pages)
Sauk County Outline – (Microsoft word file, 35 kb, 1 page)
Ozaukee County Report – (PDF file, 36 kb, 2 pages)
Dane County Report – (PDF file, 28 kb, 5 pages)
Milwaukee County Report – (PDF file, 868 kb, 34 pages)
Chippewa County Process & Documents
PC Survey Report 2009 – (PDF file, 472 kb, 18 pages)
PR Dept Breakout 2009 – (PDF file, 372 kb, 32 pages)
PR NM Dept Breakout 2009 – (PDF file, 264 kb, 21 pages)
SP Goals and Objectives Prioritized – (PDF file, 188 kb, 1 page)
State of the County Address – (PDF file, 796 kb, 11 pages)
County Administrative Resources
Another web page provides documents and information related to county administrative and personnel issues not necessarily associated with reduction or restructuring.