Should the Wausau area become one big city? - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Should the Wausau area become one big city?

WAUSAU (WAOW) -

Welcome to Wausau.

It's a city of not quite 40,000 people, but with a lot of neighbors.

At least half a dozen small communities surround the city. Some are so small you can drive through them in minutes. And all of them have a sense of pride.

"It's a great place to live," said Weston resident Joan Brzezinski.

But the way the area is laid out has been a source of debate, with many pushing for a change.

But there are many views on what exactly is a better way.

For example, there are about 75,000 people living in Wausau, Weston, Rothschild, Schofield, and Rib Mountain. But what if all those communities combined together and became one big city?

"It'd be the best of all worlds," said Wausau city councilman Bill Nagle, who has supported this idea for years. "It would be one unified body. It'd be one big happy family."

Community leaders discussed merging throughout the 1990s. In 1998, Wausau's interim mayor Jim Schaefer even introduced a resolution to get rid of the city and become one with surrounding areas. It didn't happen. But Schaefer says if he was still mayor today, he'd push for one big city.

"You'd have one government body instead of having five or six councils and trustees," said Schaefer.

Wausau's current mayor, Jim Tipple, also likes the idea of consolidating government.

"There's so much duplication of services," he said. "We have five fire departments, three or four police departments."

But he didn't flat-out say he wants one big city. And others say they're against it.

"I think that'd be a bad idea," said George Peterson, Rothschild Village president. "There are differences in each of the communities. Therefore, to treat them all the same, I feel, would be not beneficial."

And experts say creating one big city would be difficult.

"A lot of people have attachments to their community, and the community name, as well as a fear that their taxes will go up," said Ed Miller, director of the Center for the Small City at UW Stevens Point.

Joan Brzezinski couldn't agree more. She moved to Weston from Wausau.

"That's why we moved out here because the taxes are nice," she said.

And that's not the only thing.

"I like the small town," said Brzezinski.

Miller says he doesn't think the Wausau area will ever become one big city. But he says if it did, it would have several benefits.

"If they have an integrated community, even though it's the same number of people, they have a greater leverage to get business into the community," said Miller.

He points to a recent example of that: Louisville, Kentucky.

"They did it for that very reason," said Miller.

Louisville jumped from just more than 250,000 people -- to almost 700,000. The city claims the move has saved millions of dollars a year.

In our area, advocates of merging say money is a good reason to do it.

"I think we're going to have to, because there's less money," said Wausau councilman Nagle.

Kronenwetter Village president Judith Akey believes one big city could be formed in the future, but not for a while. But she says the area could begin now to merge services—such as police and fire departments—one step at a time.

"We need to get several success stories in the book in order to overcome some of the natural resistance that will crop up," said Akey in an email to Newsline 9.

No matter what the argument, though, leaders of the smaller communities say the issue of one big city hasn't come up for discussion lately. But some of them say they're open to talking.

"I think that myself and the council at this point is open-minded enough that we'd certainly look at it," said Schofield mayor Ken Fable.

"If there were a lot of benefits that they could prove would be benefits, well, maybe people would listen more," said Weston Village president Fred Schuster.

But whether it would go beyond listening, some say, is doubtful.

"We found that the citizens really wanted their own community," said Schuster.

In the end, it really is up to the people who live here. Whether they want to live together, separately—or, become one big city.

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