Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Annexation request goes to trial next year

by Steve Targo

July 26, 2012

BLOOMFIELD — If the townspeople are going to vote on a referendum to become a part of the village, it's not going to be in any election this year.

The trial on the village of Bloomfield's request to annex the remaining town will be Feb. 18 to 20, 2013, Bloomfield attorney Brian Schuk said over the phone Thursday, July 19.

According to Schuk, who represents both the town and village of Bloomfield, the trial will be to determine whether the annexation request would go to referendum.

If it does, town residents will vote on whether the village annexes the town, which is valued at more than $108.9 million.

If the referendum meets the approval of most town voters, it would create the largest village in Walworth County.

Apparently, there wasn't a sufficient attempt to stop the annexation request from going to trial.

On July 17, Walworth County Circuit Court Judge James L. Carlson signed an order of insufficient protest petition, Schuk said.

There was one protest petition, according to the order. It was signed by Attorney Richard Torhorst, who represents the Lake Geneva Area Elementary (Joint 1) School District, the Lake Geneva Economic Development Corp., Otto Jacobs LLC and Cole and Vicki Jacobs. The order states Torhorst's petition "was received on behalf of his clients."

Prospective opponents could have filed a protest petition by July 13.

They would have needed signatures from more than 51 percent of the turnout of the last gubernatorial election — at least 282 people — or from those who own more than $54 million worth of town property.

"These numbers are really hard for anyone to accomplish," Schuk said.

Nobody met the protest requirements.

"I wasn't surprised," Schuk said about the outcome in court July 17. "I was telling people there was a good chance we'd go to trial as early as December or January."

Now, attorneys have time to prepare as they further embark upon virgin territory.

"This is new," Schuk said about the type of court proceedings which lay ahead. "It isn't done a lot in the state of Wisconsin. We're all just kind of scratching our heads."

Perseverance

These days, Bloomfield town and village officials should be used to trying something new.

A portion of the town became a village after an incorporation referendum election Nov. 8, 2011.

On a 547-146 vote, the residents of a 12-square-mile region northeast of Highway H approved the referendum.

It was the end of a five-year struggle for incorporation proponents.

Initially, they asked the State Department of Administration to accept an incorporation request for an 18-square-mile region, including the areas of Pell Lake, Nippersink, Lake Ivanhoe, Pioneer Estates and other areas northeast of Highway H.

In June 2010, the DOA determined that region didn't meet the incorporation requirements, but asked the town to re-file the request for a smaller region. Proponents did, for the current village, excluding Lake Ivanhoe and Pioneer Estates.

That was met with DOA approval, as well as that of the majority of voters in the Nov. 8, 2011, referendum election.

A key factor in the argument to incorporate was a state law which allows cities and villages to annex nearby land at the property owner's request.

Bloomfield officials, including former town chairman Ken Monroe, said previously that incorporating the town as a village "secures our borders."

Ironically, now the village of Bloomfield is seeking to annex the remaining town. Monroe, the current village president, has said in the past this was part of the plan.

"When we first started the incorporation process, the intent was to incorporate the whole town," he said in a Dec. 21 interview.

Why? On July 13, Monroe said this is what the people want.

"We were asked by the townspeople. (They wanted) the chance to come into the village," he said.

The Bloomfield Town Board adopted a resolution to seek village of Bloomfield annexation at a special meeting Dec. 20, 2011. At that time, the same people served on the town and village boards.

At that time, Monroe was town chairman and village president.

However, Monroe has said the village of Bloomfield is simply asking the court to allow the townspeople to vote on the issue.

It's "annexation by referendum," he said earlier this year, and most of the people he has talked to "are in favor of it."

"The (town) asked for this," Monroe said July 13. "So, it should be the rest of the town, their right to go to referendum and vote on it."

He predicted that's what the court will decide.

Schuk said it's a complicated issue, but arguing a case for annexation is different than one for incorporation.

With incorporation, there are requirements to be met. Proof must be shown that the area meets the necessary population density, that it is compact, that it can provide services to its residents.

"Annexations don't have that," Schuk said.

He said by law, they have to prove the annexation is planned. Schuk said in essence, the argument for his clients is that they are not acting arbitrarily.

"There's plenty of case law that says that it's not a judicial decision on whether (the annexation) should be approved or not," he said. "It's a legislative decision."

Even as far as annexation cases go, this one is unique in that — for once — the town and the village are seeking the annexation.

Other than that, Monroe compared what the village and town of Bloomfield are asking for to other recent annexations, such as the 718 acres of former Linn Township land by the city of Lake Geneva or the Kloppstein Farm, formerly in Bloomfield Township, by the village of Genoa City.

But again, Monroe stressed their battle is to allow the town of Bloomfield to decide whether they want to be a part of the village.

"It should be decided by the people of the town," he said. "It shouldn't be another city or village taking that right away."