On Monday I shared my thoughts about the size of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors in an entry that provoked a lively discussion about the merits and drawbacks of downsizing the County Board from the current number of supervisors (18) to some smaller number.
At the time, I noted such a move would result in cost savings, savings that could then be redirected into shoring up Milwaukee County’s innumerable deferred maintenance projects, neglected parks, and shrinking transit system, and yesterday Bruce Murphy from Urban Milwaukee wrote about the big budget of Milwaukee County’s Board of Supervisors, especially in comparison to other county boards that have many more members (emphasis added).
Back in 1989 I did a feature story on Milwaukee county government. I was stunned by what I encountered. Though its 25 county supervisors drew a full-time salary, nearly half worked part-time. There simply wasn’t enough work for so many board members, so they spent much of their time on micro-managing county departments or petty squabbles with each other.
Milwaukee made a token effort to reduce the size of the board, but its 18 members are still far in excess of the average county board nationally, which has about six members. In 2006, I analyzed data from the National Association of Counties which showed that fully 10 percent of all board members in America were located in just one state: Wisconsin. No state had more total board members. Even huge states like New York and California had fewer county supervisors than Wisconsin.
But no county in this state comes close to Milwaukee in taxpayer dollars devoted to the county board. The annual budget for Racine’s county board, counting its 21 supervisors and all staff who serve the board, is $417,000. The annual budget for Dane County, with its 37 county board members and 4.75 full-time staffers, is $873,000. The annual bill for Milwaukee’s 18 supervisors and 56 staff members who serve the board: $6.5 million.