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Sauk County Board seeks clarity on proposed advisory referendum rules

August 24, 2018

Sauk County supervisors sent back to committee Tuesday a resolution that would set rules for placing advisory referendums on election ballots.

Since new leadership was elected in April, the County Board has approved three referendums on matters hotly contested at the state and federal levels. November’s ballot will include questions about gerrymandering, campaign finance and medical marijuana, with a referendum on gun control still potentially to be added.

On Tuesday citizens bluntly asked the board to stick to county business rather than wade into national affairs. Supervisors agreed controls are needed.

“I think the previous referenda have been a source of divisiveness,” said Supervisor Chuck Whitsell of Wisconsin Dells.

The board took up a measure that would limit the number of referendums on a spring or fall ballot to three, and would require any proposed referendum question be submitted 120 days before an election. It would have taken effect Sept. 1.

“It seems to be a nice compromise,” said Supervisor Carl Gruber of Baraboo.

“I think it’s plain and simple and straightforward,” Supervisor Tim Reppen of Baraboo agreed.

Supervisors debated a proposed amendment that would have required that any referendum question have a fiscal impact on county taxpayers. They voted 28-3 to refer the resolution back to the Executive and Legislative Committee for further discussion.

Supervisor David Moore of Wisconsin Dells asked who would determine a referendum’s fiscal impact, as an act as simple as mailing a letter has a cost.

“Everything we do spends dollars and cents,” he said.

“How do you measure that sort of thing?” asked Supervisor Bill Wenzel of Prairie du Sac.

The board asked the committee to fine-tune the resolution’s language to define what would constitute a fiscal impact. They also want the committee to determine whether corporations or residents — or both — are the taxpayers the resolution means to identify.

“This would hopefully provide us with some guidance going forward,” Whitsell said.

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