Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Mediation begins Sept. 28
Village president wants border agreement with Bloomfield

by Chris Schultz

September 20, 2012

GENOA CITY — It was going to go to trial next February.

Now, all parties involved in the proposed annexation of the town of Bloomfield by the recently created village of Bloomfield will enter mediation at the Walworth County Courthouse Friday, Sept. 28, at 9 a.m.

"If we have to go into litigation, this is going to cost everybody a whole lot of money," Genoa City Village President John Wrzeszcz said over the phone Friday. "We definitely don't want to do that."

A number of parties — including the city of Lake Geneva, the Lakes Area (Joint 1) School District, Otto Jacobs LLC and Immanuel Lutheran Church — don't want the village of Bloomfield to annex the remaining town.

As for the top official in Genoa City, Wrzeszcz said he isn't just worried about how much it would cost to fight the annexation attempt in court.

"If they were to incorporate the rest of the town of Bloomfield into the village of Bloomfield, this new village would come right up to our western border and our northern border," Wrzeszcz said.

This, he said, would prohibit Genoa City's future growth abilities. Wisconsin allows cities and villages to annex land from a nearby property owner at that person's request. However, incorporated communities cannot annex land from each other.

Wrzeszcz said if the village of Bloomfield annexes the remaining town, Genoa City could not grow.

Growth has been a key point of discussion for Wrzeszcz since he became village president last year. Only the discussion has, until now, centered around Genoa City's downtown sector.

That's right, downtown Genoa City, which has become less than thriving over the past 50 years.

There was a time when Highway 12 ran through downtown Genoa City, and it's where several businesses flourished — a hardware store, a movie theater, restaurants, a drug store, furniture shop, three gas stations, an opera house. The list used to be even longer.

Then the state rerouted Highway 12 east of the village. Now, it takes motorists north without them having to pass Genoa City. Now, the village's downtown sector consists mostly of vacant or closed buildings.

So at this point, why even talk about annexation?

Wrzeszcz said because he's thinking about the long-term, as are his fellow board members.

"We've got enough problems right now trying to get the downtown rejuvenated," he said. "We just want the right to someday allow the village of Genoa City to grow."

Two directions

According to Wrzeszcz, there already are two restricted growth areas — possibly.

Wrzeszcz said he believes there is a border agreement in place with the town of Randall, directly to the east of Genoa City. However, on Friday, he said it could not be located. Village officials are looking for it, he said.

"We may not have a border agreement with Randall," Wrzeszcz said.

But if they don't, he said Genoa City typically would not annex property which is not served by its water and sewer utilities. Part of Randall is served by Twin Lakes, Wrzeszcz said.

It would appear eastern growth isn't a viable option at this point. As for the south, Genoa City abuts the Wisconsin-Illinois border.

So the only areas Genoa City could annex would be north and west.

If the town of Bloomfield is not annexed by the village, there could be some prime growth opportunities to the west. Wrzeszcz said one potential selling point is Genoa City has the closest utilities to that region.

"We could very easily service anything west of Genoa City. We're not even at half capacity," Wrzeszcz said. "Todd (Schiller, Genoa City's public works superintendent) has got half the system shut down."

But Wrzeszcz said village board members aren't anxious to annex land any time soon.

"We're thinking of the future," he said. "We're not thinking one year down the road. We're talking probably 10 to 12 years."

He also explained that annexation only occurs when the property owner approaches the village — not the other way around.

However, Wrzeszcz said should the opportunity arise to discuss a large-scale development, his village should be able to seize it.

Nevertheless, that opportunity won't likely be immediate.

"I don't know why Bloomfield is so worried. The economy is so bad we're not even looking at annexation," Wrzeszcz said. "Nobody has come to us to ask."

Work together?

In the past, town and village of Bloomfield officials have expressed publicly their reasons for pursuing the annexation.

Earlier this year, Town Chairman Dan Schoonover said he would rather become part of the village of Bloomfield than Genoa City because "Bloomfield is what we've always been." Last year's referendum to incorporate a 12-square-mile region of the town as a village was an effort described as a way for Bloomfield residents to control their own destiny.

Bloomfield Village President Ken Monroe previously said the townspeople asked his community to annex them. If the Walworth County Circuit Court were to allow Bloomfield to proceed, the final stage would be for town voters to approve a referendum before the annexation would be complete.

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

As for Bloomfield's attempt to control its own destiny, Wrzeszcz said Friday he can understand this perspective — somewhat.

"I can understand Bloomfield to a point, but I think they went overboard with what they're trying to grab," he said.

Wrzeszcz also said he would like to see Genoa City and Bloomfield work together more, citing the success of the Bloomfield-Genoa City Fire and Rescue Department — himself a former Genoa City fire chief. He said someday, perhaps other Genoa City and Bloomfield departments could merge.

But meeting under these circumstances may muddy those waters.

Wrzeszcz's debut to this issue likely will find him carrying on the tone set by former village president Barry Goad, who also publicly opposed Bloomfield's incorporation attempt.

As for how Wrzeszcz is going to approach this, he sighed and offered this statement.

"Well, I think what we've got to do is just sit back and go through this," he said.