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Many Milwaukee Voters Finally Hearing about April 1 Referendum

The question that will be on all ballots in Milwaukee County, asks voters whether or not to cut county supervisors' salaries.

The vote will be one of the final steps of Wisconsin Act 14. That new state law reduced the scope of the Milwaukee County Board.

One side, calling itself Forward Milwaukee County, Inc. has begun running a radio ad, urging voters to vote 'yes', in effect, reducing the job of county supervisor from full time to part time.

The other, involving the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, sent postcards to thousands of union members, encouraging them to vote 'no.' Secretary-treasurer Sheila Cochran says it wants to retain fulltime supervisors and for the county to pay them appropriately.

“We don’t aspire to drive wages down for anyone. You get what you pay for and, if you’re only going to pay $24,000, then they walk into the job knowing there’s not a lot that’s expected of them,” Cochran says.

Cochran says, if residents are unhappy with the job their supervisor is doing, then they should vote for someone else.

Supervisor David Cullen says the quality of county government will undoubtedly suffer, if board members serve part time.

“It’s going to be a little bit more difficult to get ahold of us, a little bit more difficult for us to act. We have a billion dollar budget. You’re going to have a situation where board members come in at seven o’clock at night, after working their day job, and I don’t think you’re going to get the level of input the public deserves,” Cullen says.

Cullen says he also worries that the county executive position would become too powerful and go unchecked, if the legislative branch was not on duty full time.

The current board has challenged County Executive Chris Abele on a range of issues, from who should run the transit system to what should happen with county property near the lakefront.

Joe Sanfelippo says the board has taken to micro-managing the county. He was a supervisor, now, as an Assemblyman, he helped convince state leaders to scale back the Milwaukee County Board, so it operates like all others in Wisconsin. Sanfelippo insists counties with part time legislative branches function effectively.

“When you have a board working together in harmony with the county executive, there will be more time spent solving problems and less time spent pointing fingers and arguing with each other,” Sanfelippo says.

As for who might run for a $24,000 a year job with no benefits, Sanfelippo foresees plenty of interest.

“And, more importantly, we’re going to be able to see increased participation by citizens in the county because in the board will presumably be holding these meetings in the evening since it’s a part time board,” Sanfelippo says.

The decision Milwaukee County voters make on April first, will become effective in April of 2016.