Counties Considering Consolidating

Here’s an interesting idea.

County governments in Wisconsin are financially unsustainable and must reinvent themselves to survive, even if that means erasing borders and merging with the county next door, Washington County leaders say in a letter to four of their neighbors.

The County Board’s Executive Committee and County Administrator Joshua Schoemann have invited their counterparts in Ozaukee, Fond du Lac, Dodge and Waukesha counties to discuss everything from sharing services, consolidating departments and even redrawing maps to unite as one.

Any talks would build on existing partnerships. Washington and Ozaukee counties merged their health departments last year and already saved taxpayers $300,000. Waukesha County shares its medical examiner with Washington County.

State law allows consolidation of two or more counties and Washington County’s leaders are willing to consider going down that road in order to resolve fiscal¬†problems caused by declining revenue and increasing expenses, Schoemann said.

It makes a lot of sense to combine many of the departments and functions to reduce costs and increase service. I’m a bit more hesitant about merging the governance. Having a massive county dilutes representation. But that may also increase visibility and accountability. There are certainly numerous examples of much larger counties in this country.

I look forward to the discussion!