Just because Waukesha County is not technically a business, that
does not mean it can’t be run like one.
Shawn Lundie, the chief of staff for County Executive Dan Vrakas,
said every decision county government makes is financially-based
– just the way it is with a private sector business.
“We try to operate like a business,” he said. “We value our
employees, we value the taxpayers. We appreciate the fact that
we are in a low tax environment and a conservative county and we
have the conservative leadership and budget to match that.”
For an example, look at the annual budget. The four largest
annual expenditures are in perfect alignment with the public’s
most important issues, according to county-run focus groups.
Of Waukesha’s $100 million tax levy, 40 percent goes towards
justice and law enforcement, 25 percent to Health and Human
Services, 11 percent towards public works and 9 percent to
“(Other counties) look at us as a leader,” said Sarah Spaeth,
the legislative policy advisor for the County Board Office. “For
the WCA, the counties association, they are doing a conference
and they wanted somebody to do a high-level budgeting
(presentation). The first person they called was (Waukesha
County Department of Administration Head) Norm Cummings.”
Harmony between the county board and the county executive has
also been a reason why Waukesha is running smoothly, said Lundie.
When it comes to drafting the budget – the single largest task
each year – Vrakas meets with County Board Chair Paul Decker and
the chair of the Finance Committee to iron out any wrinkles
before the budget is officially introduced.
“We do not see the county board as an adversary. We see the
county board – its members, its staff – as partners,” Lundie
said. “When we introduce the budget, one of the things people
are usually surprised about it is that we are not Milwaukee
County. We do things totally differently around here.”
Lundie noted that Waukesha County has the lowest spending per
capita among counties in the state, as well as one of
Wisconsin’s three lowest tax rates and the lowest such rate
among counties without a county tax.
“We try to be the quiet county,” Lundie said. “We are very, very
steady. We try not to do anything dramatic one way or the other,
which is why it is interesting whenever there is any sort of
conflict, because it is so rare, but we like it that way.’