December 28, 2011 | 08:07 AMThe biggest story of 2011 just got bigger.
On Nov. 8, by a vote of 547-146, Bloomfield Township residents approved a referendum to turn a 12-square-mile region northeast of Highway H into a village.
But at a special Dec. 20 meeting, shortly after the state certified the referendum result, members of the Bloomfield Town Board — who coincidentally also are members of the Bloomfield Village Board until a special election which may occur next February — adopted a resolution.
It's a move some may have hoped for — and others feared. During a Dec. 21 telephone interview, Bloomfield Town Chairman and Village President Ken Monroe said the resolution announces the village's intent to annex the remaining town.
"When we first started the incorporation process, the intent was to incorporate the whole town," Monroe said.
State law allows cities and villages to annex land from a nearby town at a property owner's request. Being located north of the village of Genoa City and south of the city of Lake Geneva, some Bloomfield residents feared the inevitable erosion of their community borders.
However, years ago, back when Bloomfield Town Board, engineers and other residents would discuss incorporation as a possibility, the idea of a "sham incorporation" was approached. Essentially, that's when part of a town incorporates as a city or village, then annexes the remaining town.
That's what happened in Bristol, and it could occur in Bloomfield. However, there's a process to follow. More about it and other aspects of creating a new village will be part of a special "look ahead" to 2012 in next week's Regional News.
But on Dec. 21, Monroe said calls from people asking if they could request to be annexed by the new village came in shortly after the Nov. 8 referendum.
"There has been a lot of interest on it," he said. "At that first (incorporation) hearing, so many people from the outlying town asked the Incorporation Review Board why they couldn't just keep the community intact. That was the biggest thing."
Once again, it's going to be up to voters -- if the process is followed. Part of that involves a Walworth County Circuit Court hearing. If the mass annexation makes it to the referendum stage, this time it will be the voters who live in the remaining town to decide whether they want to live in the new village of Bloomfield.
"We can do the resolution, we can do all the work, but really, it all comes down to the voters," Monroe said.
Why turn a town into a village? Monroe gave a simple but strong reply to that question during an interview earlier this month.
"The biggest part of this I've always made clear to the people is we have to secure our borders," he said. "Being a village secures our borders."
How they became a village
To call it a journey for those who wanted a village of Bloomfield is an understatement. Some, including Monroe, predicted it would take years before reaching this point.
Officially, it took about five years. Although there have been efforts to incorporate parts of Bloomfield before, the origins of this successful one can be traced back to 2006.
Despite an interest from town officials and residents, it was a false start on the road to incorporation. In 2007, the majority of town residents who participated in an incorporation survey expressed a desire not to become a village.
That majority turned about-face in 2008.
A group of residents presented the Bloomfield Town Board with a petition of 645 signatures directing it to take another look at incorporation.
About four months later, the town filed a petition asking the State Department of Administration to turn an 18-square-mile region of Bloomfield into a village.
However, Lake Geneva and Genoa City filed motions to intervene in this request from Bloomfield.
Back then, officials cited concerns the proposed 18-square-mile village of Bloomfield would stifle their communities' abilities to grow by annexing town of Bloomfield land.
What followed were a series of unsuccessful attempts to negotiate border agreements. Bloomfield and Genoa City officials came closest to some sort of middle ground. Although they worked out a "buffer zone" along the border, Genoa City officials proposed a clause in the agreement limiting Bloomfield Township property owners from asking to annex into the would-be village of Bloomfield.
Then it seemed the incorporation effort took another hit.
In June 2010, the DOA determined the 18-square-mile Bloomfield village proposal didn't meet incorporation requirements.
However, DOA Incorporation Review Board asked the town to refile a request for a smaller region. On Dec. 20, 2010, petitioner and Incorporation Committee Chairman Doug Mushel refiled a request asking to incorporate a 12-square-mile region northeast of Highway H.
"What we basically left outside of the municipal boundaries of the area for incorporation is rural farmland," Mushel said during a September interview.
But if one would look back and say the first four years of the Bloomfield incorporation process were stagnant, 2011 was a fast-forward.
Once again, Lake Geneva and Genoa City attempted to intervene in Bloomfield's request. This time, their motions were declined by Walworth County Circuit Court Judge John Race.
In August, the Incorporation Review Board determined the 12-square-mile village proposal met the criteria for incorporation.
"By excluding approximately 6 square miles of rural lands and the Pioneer Park and Lake Ivanhoe neighborhoods, this resubmitted petition more than doubles the remnant town's equalized value, increases its population by 800 people and proposes a $526,000 budget with a projected decreased tax rate for remnant residents," stated Dawn Vick, chairwoman of the Review Board, in an Aug. 12 letter to Race.
After state officials gave the incorporation effort the go-ahead, it was up to voters. On Dec. 20 — one year after Mushel resubmitted his petition — the state certified the results of the Nov. 8 referendum overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal.
"We are the village of Bloomfield," Bloomfield Town Clerk Martie Wells said the night of the referendum election.