Citizens in central Wisconsin are pushing for the creation of a new county, which if successful would be the first new state county in more than 50 years.
University of Wisconsin-Marshfield and Wood County history professor Jeff Kleiman first proposed establishing Century County from parts of Wood, Marathon and Clark Counties in 1997. The county seat would be in the city of Marshfield. According to Kleiman’s original proposal, the last county created in Wisconsin was Menominee County in 1961.
Wood County contains the two major population centers in the area: Wisconsin Rapids and Marshfield. However, the county seat is located in Wisconsin Rapids, which means people living near Marshfield face long drives to receive many county services, said Marshfield Mayor Chris Meyer. The recent budget cuts have also limited county services previously offered in Marshfield.
Meyer said recent problems regarding frac sand mining have brought the discussion to the forefront again, as the mining trucks often damage county roads. Citizens in the southern part of Wood County, which contains Wisconsin Rapids, want to fine the mining businesses, which people in the northern part of the county, including Marshfield, depend on for jobs.
Kleiman said in an email to The Badger Herald that a strong rivalry has always existed between the northern and southern parts of the county, and frac sand mining is just another dispute.
“The current brouhaha about effectively taxing the frac sand industry in and around Marshfield is one more attempt to make money from the north end of the county,” Kleiman said.
The proposal has drawn mixed reviews from Wood County Board of Supervisors members. Gerald Nelson, a Wood County district supervisor, said creating Century County would require duplicating many current county departments like the courthouse and sheriff’s department, which would be expensive.
“When I served on the city council back when it was initiated, I supported it. But now I don’t support it,” Nelson said. “It’s too costly. The state right now is currently downsizing counties, and I don’t see how it’s going to get passed.”
Another county supervisor, Ed Wagner, said he supports the proposal because Marshfield provides 60 percent of the total amount of sales taxes for Wood County but receives a very limited amount of services in return.
To get approval for creating Century County, the proposal would need to be passed by its future residents, as well as the state Legislature. Wagner said many people in the northern part of the county support the measure, and that the proposal may pass the Legislature because of last year’s redistricting, which has given Marshfield two senators and two representatives.
However, Wood County Finance Director Michael Martin said the current trend of state politics is moving away from counties to regionalization and said the state would more likely go from 72 to 71 counties, rather than 73.
Martin said while the creation of a new county may lower the budget of Wood County because of fewer people on the county payroll, the combined budgets for the two counties would probably increase, as they would have to duplicate county departments like payroll services and courthouses.
“Having two courthouses would be a dramatic increase in cost of the counties, especially if each one of them had jails,” Martin said. “It would be a very pricey operation.”