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Sauk County Board to consider new referendum rule (copy)

Dan Holzman speaks to the Sauk County Board's Executive and Legislative Committee in favor of holding a referendum on gun rights in this August file photo.

The Sauk County Board is scheduled to consider a change to its rules this week intended to address recent controversies over advisory referendums.

That’s just one of numerous items included on the agenda for the board’s monthly meeting, which will take place Tuesday night in Baraboo.

The proposed rule would address timing and vote requirements for proposed countywide ballot questions.

If approved, the rule would require that advisory referendums be submitted in writing to the board at least 120 days prior to the next election. In order to appear on local ballots, they would have to win a two-thirds majority vote of the board, rather than a simple majority.

In recent months, the board has approved advisory referendums on non-partisan redistricting, the influence of money in politics, and medical marijuana. Proposed referendums on gun rights, abortion and the illegal sale of baby parts have been turned down by the board’s Executive and Legislative Committee.

The referendum battles have generated significant controversy, and led to discussions about additional requirements for countywide ballot questions.

During its August meeting, the board sent back to committee a proposed resolution that would have limited the number of referendums in any election to three and required a 120-day approval window.

Several supervisors said they wanted further restrictions on subject matter, such as requiring referendums to have a fiscal impact on the county. The intention was to prevent the conflict that has come from debating controversial state and national issues that are outside the board’s control.

The board’s Executive and Legislative Committee decided to instead propose restrictions in the form of a new board rule. Requiring a two-thirds majority — rather than a simple majority — for advisory referendums would self-limit subject matter to that which is most important, committee members said.

Changing board rules at any time other than the beginning and middle of supervisors’ two-year terms requires a two-thirds majority vote. So the new rule itself must meet a higher-than-usual threshold to win approval.

Also Tuesday, the board will receive a presentation from administrative staff regarding the Finance Committee’s proposed 2019 budget. After that, the board is expected to certify the proposed budget for publication and set a November date for a public hearing.

The proposed $96 million budget would require a property tax levy of $31.16 million, an increase of 0.6 percent. The board also will consider the creation of new positions Tuesday night that are included in the 2019 budget.

Supervisors will have an opportunity to propose amendments to the budget prior to and during the November meeting at which it will be considered.

Depending on action by the Executive and Legislative Committee just prior to Tuesday night’s meeting, the board also may consider a resolution authorizing a contract with a conflict resolution consultant who has offered his services free of charge.

The consultant, Jeff Hoffman of Applied Conflict Solutions LLC, would speak with supervisors individually and then make recommendations for resolving long-standing disputes and behavioral issues.

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos or contact him at 608-745-3513.

Baraboo News Republic reporter