Two referendums face county voters
When they go to the polls Nov. 4, St. Croix County residents will be asked their opinions on two questions.
Question 1, an advisory referendum, asks voters if the county should continue to run a public nursing home if tax money is used to fund the operation.
Question 2, which is binding, asks if the County Board of Supervisors should be reduced from 31 to 19 members.
The nursing home issue has haunted County Board members for years.
In November 2006, supervisors agreed to seek proposals from businesses interested in buying, leasing or partnering to run the county-owned home in New Richmond.
In July 2007 Hudson's Christian Community Home, the lead suitor in negotiations to take over the home, withdrew after the New Richmond City Council adopted a resolution opposing privatization of the facility.
In January of this year, supervisors got cost estimates for building a new nursing home in New Richmond. Those estimates were $11 million to build and furnish a 72-bed facility and $7.8 million for a new 50-bed home.
In March the County Board voted to continue to operate the 72-bed home for the time being and to hold a countywide referendum this November.
Those who wish to maintain the 72-bed nursing home as a county-run facility argue that public facilities offer better care and that the home deserves tax support just as any other county service.
Those who want to close or sell the home insist the building is outdated and the money spent on the facility could be used for mandated services such as law enforcement and roads.
At this point the proposed 2009 county budget calls for using $1 million in property tax money to help cover the nursing home's $5.9 million anticipated operating expenses.
Earlier this fall a group that included five former St. Croix County Board members circulated petitions to force a referendum on County Board size.
A two-year-old state law allows citizens to demand a referendum on county board size by collecting petitions signed by a number equal to a quarter of those who voted in the last supervisory election. In St. Croix's case that figured out to 1,950.
The local group collected more than 2,000 signatures by its September deadline.
On Nov. 4 county voters will be asked if the number of supervisors should be trimmed from 31 to 19. The vote will be binding.
If the referendum passes, county staff will have until Dec. 1, 2009 to come up with a redistricting plan, said County Clerk Cindy Campbell. She hasn't been through the redistricting process, which generally occurs every 10 years following the national census, but expected the referendum-driven process would work the same as the process used after the census.
Dec. 1, 2009 is the first day prospective county board members can begin circulating nomination papers for the April 2010 supervisory election.
Former River Falls supervisor Tom Caflisch, who chaired a committee that studied county board size in 2006, said he and the others who circulated the petitions believe a 31-member board is inefficient.
The study committee recommended that the board be trimmed from 31 to 21. That recommendation never came to a vote at the board level because, said Caflisch, it was obvious there wasn't enough support to adopt it.
Supporters of smaller county boards argue that they promote efficiency and encourage more contested races.
Proponents of larger boards insist they represent diverse constituencies and that it is more difficult for special interests to influence a larger number of supervisors.