Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Village of Bloomfield goes to referendum

by Steve Targo

September 22, 2011

BLOOMFIELD — The moment of truth is less than two months away.

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, there will be a special referendum election to determine if a 12-square-mile region of Bloomfield Township will be incorporated as a village. Residents of this area northeast of Highway H are the only ones who can vote in this election. Ultimately, they will decide if this region remains a town or becomes a village.

Now, proponents of this effort will set some information meetings. The town’s Incorporation Committee was expected to meet Tuesday night to schedule the first one.

During a telephone interview Wednesday, Sept. 14, Committee Chairman Doug Mushel said the first one could be as early as next week. He said there could be two or three info meetings, but “it depends on the turnout and the number of questions” about the effort.

Mushel, who also filed the incorporation petition approved by the state Department of Administration in August, said this is the crucial stage. Although this effort officially began in 2008, talks about creating some sort of “village of Bloomfield” have been going on since 2000. Back then, there was an effort to turn Pell Lake into a village.

“That one reached the same stage where we are now,” Mushel said.

A petition had been filed, it met DOA requirements and a referendum election occurred. That referendum failed.

Will history repeat itself? Mushel said it’s still too early to accurately gauge how it’s going to go, whether people will want their community to become a village.

“I think there’s a core of people who do and I feel there’s a large group of people who don’t have enough information yet,” Mushel said. “I’m sure there’s also going to be people who will be dead set against it.”

The long road

What propelled these talks were fears of annexation and a desire to control local land use matters.

State law allows cities and villages to annex land from nearby towns at a property owner’s request. Also, until recently, Walworth County made the final decision in town land use and zoning issues. This year, the town hired a zoning administrator and some — but not all — land use matters are decided at the town level.

After the 2000 referendum failure, incorporation talks remained solely at the conversation level for a few years. Then, a plan to turn about 18 square miles of the town was the focus of a petition filed in 2008. This plan drew concerns from officials from the city of Lake Geneva and the village of Genoa City about future growth options for those communities.

On June 14, 2010, the DOA’s Incorporation Review Board dismissed the 2008 petition because of the size of the proposed village. However, it recommended Mushel and the town refile for a smaller area. After cutting about 6 miles from the old petition, the proposal which recently was met with state approval was sent Dec. 20, 2010. “What we basically left outside of the municipal boundaries of the area for incorporation is rural farmland,” Mushel said.

Essentially, rural lands — including areas which create a buffer between the proposed village and Lake Geneva and Genoa City — and the neighborhoods of Lake Ivanhoe and Pioneer Park were removed.

“We had to meet certain standards to be a village,” Mushel said. “It wasn’t just taking a line and drawing on a piece of paper.”

There were six standards set forth by the DOA, ranging from compactness of the proposed village to level of services and tax revenue generated for the village and the remaining town. Mushel said these criteria and the history of this effort are some of the topics he plans to discuss at the info meetings.

Taxes & services

Two of the most asked-about aspects of the proposed village relate to taxes and services.

Mushel said he plans to go over the proposed tax rates for the proposed village and remaining town at the first info meeting. He said planners tried to keep the tax rates as close to what they are now. When this year’s budget was being created, the estimated tax rate was $2.75 per $1,000 of assessed value. That means, with that rate, the owner of town property worth $200,000 would pay $550 for town services.

“It was a difficult process,” Mushel said. “We didn’t want to be in a situation where any of the (municipalities) couldn’t financially exist.”

He said he will further discuss services for the proposed village and remaining town at the info meetings.

“It’s all going to depend a lot on shared services,” Mushel said.

Some of the ideas in the proposal include the town and village sharing the current Town Hall and having the current Police and Public Works departments become village of Bloomfield services to be contracted to the town. As for law enforcement needs, Mushel said the remaining town could contract police service from the village department or from the Walworth County Sheriff’s Department.

Mushel said in the long run, the hope is to make it seem as if there is little difference in the level of services from what they are now.

But creating joint service agreements likely would fall into the hands of the officials in control of these communities.

The proposed village also would need a village board. The way it could happen, the current five-member Bloomfield Town Board may be split.

In Bloomfield, only two board members — Chairman Ken Monroe and Supervisor William Holder — live in the proposed village. Supervisors Tom Sullivan, Sue Leedle and Dan Schoonover live in the remaining town.

Mushel said he believes the current board could remain in control until the next election. It’s also likely the remaining Town Board would decrease to three members.

“So, yes, in April, there would be an election for the village of Bloomfield and three spots on the Town Board,” Mushel said.

He added these issues and more will be covered at the upcoming info meetings.