Judge rejects city of Waukesha's request to invalidate village’s incorporation

Waukesha County Circuit Judge Ralph Ramirez delivers his decision Thursday in the city of Waukesha’s challenge to the village of Waukesha’s 2020 incorporation.

WAUKESHA — Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Ralph Ramirez on Thursday denied Waukesha’s request to invalidate the Village of Waukesha’s 2020 incorporation.

Addressing village and city officials and their attorneys, Ramirez said that while the former town may have only created a tax incremental finance (TIF) district, a sanitary sewer district, and boundary agreements purely to incorporate, the processes followed by town officials met the requirements necessary under state law at the time.

“I acknowledge the city’s position that the town did these things not necessarily to do these things, but for the purposes of moving towards incorporation, but I can’t find that they did anything improper in that regard … so for that reason I have to deny the city’s motion,” Ramirez said.

Leaving the courtroom on Thursday, Waukesha Village President Mike Doerr said he was pleased with the ruling.

“We feel that we acted appropriately the entire way. We respected the city’s countering opinion that it was done just for incorporation, but our position has been that it was done within the confines of the law. I think all three mechanisms — the sanitary sewer district, the TIF District and the boundary agreements — have already borne positive fruit for the village.”

Before delivering his decision on Thursday, Ramirez acknowledged that it would likely be appealed by whichever party was adversely affected.

Whether the city will go that route remains in the hands of the Common Council, said Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly.

The case

Typically, town incorporation requests must go through a state review board in a process that allows input from neighboring towns and villages.

A temporary law passed in 2015 as a state budgetary rider, however, gave some towns next to “third-class” cities or villages the right to incorporate without going through the review board as long as they already met certain requirements, or would meet them by June 30, 2020.

Having successfully completed that criteria in the eyes of the state Department of Administration, the Town of Waukesha held an incorporation referendum on May 5 and became a village just a few days later.

Ten days later, on May 15, the city of Waukesha filed a lawsuit in Waukesha County Circuit Court, claiming that the town failed to satisfy the requirements necessary to incorporate.

Although the state DOA found the cooperative boundary plans, TIF district, and sanitary sewer district the then-Town of Waukesha completed had met the necessary requirements, the city alleged they did not.

Sewer district question

When Ramirez adjourned the case on June 10, after hearing oral arguments from both city and village attorneys, it was, he said, to delve more deeply into the city’s claim that the sanitary sewer district created by the town as part of its incorporation effort didn’t truly constitute a sanitary sewer district according to the law.

“The town, when it was beginning this process, attempted to create a sanitary district that consisted of nothing other than the sole parcel on which the Town Hall sits, and which is served by the city pursuant to a 2015 intergovernmental agreement,” argued the city’s attorney Paul Kent in June. “There are no improvements (in the village’s sanitary district),” Kent continued. “There is nothing for the sanitary district to do. There is only one parcel. It is served by a connection to the city, and the city provides all of the sewer services, all of the treatment, all of the improvements.”

Village attorney Stan Riffle, countered that the district did indeed provide benefits to the town/village.

“(It) allowed for the sanitary sewer district to manage the sewer laterals that serve the municipal campus. It allowed the sanitary district to manage the municipal well that serves the municipal campus,” noted Riffle. “There are public improvements here. And this court should not substitute its judgment for the town’s (who created the district), feeling that it was in the public interest.”

Decision

Discussing those two arguments on Thursday, Ramirez said he had ultimately determined that the town properly took the steps to create the sewer district, and that state law didn’t necessarily require that the municipality build or change anything as part of making its “improvements.”

“The court’s position is that the proposed improvements as described in that petition fall within the powers and duties described by statute, and that the powers and duties do not by necessity need to include any physical improvements or plans to create or modify structures,” Ramirez said.

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