Wisconsin intergovernmental agreement statutes allow for “major” boundary changes

by Hannah Dankbar

City of Kaukauna v. Village of Harrison
Wisconsin Court of Appeals, August 26, 2015

In 2013 the Village of Harrison was created within the Town of Harrison. The two communities created an intergovernmental cooperation agreement to share services and provide more land to the Village. The Cities of Kaukauna and Menasha, the Village of Sherwood along with individual property owners (referred to as the Challengers) argue that the agreement involved a “major” boundary change that exceeds the scope allowed by statute, and that the Town and Village did not strictly comply with statutory notice requirements.

In February 2013 voters in the Town of Harrison approved incorporating a 4.6-square-mile area as the Village of Harrison.  The Town and the Village published a notice about a hearing to discuss an Intergovernmental Cooperation Agreement concerning the provision of municipal services and the apportionment of costs, assets and liabilities, and the boundary line that would form the village limits. In addition to the published notice there was also a notice sent via certified mail to 1910 property owners. As a result of the boundary change 1,736 parcels that had been in the Town were assigned to the Village, which had an initial population of 9,597. This left the Town with 1,316 residents in “growth areas” with intermunicipal agreements with the cities of Appleton and Menasha. Prior to creation of the Village the Town of Harrison had about 10,700 residents.

The Challengers argue that WIS. STAT. § 66.0301 allows only “modest boundary changes incidental to” the sharing of services between governments and requires a prehearing notice to property owners of the effects of the intergovernmental agreement on the boundary lines. The Challengers conceded that the statute is silent on the scope of the boundary changes permitted via intergovernmental agreements, but they argue that the statute should be read to allow only “modest” boundary changes necessary to accomplish the statute’s “primary goal of sharing services between municipalities.” The Court of Appeals, however, believed that this would require it to read beyond the plain language of a statute, which the court determined it would not do.

The Challengers argue that allowing municipalities to achieve major boundary changes via intergovernmental agreements would lead to an “absurd” result and would take meaning away from other statutes related to intergovernmental agreements, and the agency and mandatory public referendum approval process required for other jurisdictional alterations. The court disagreed.  Just because there is a legislative process that the Challengers do not like does not mean it is “absurd”. Statutes can provide multiple methods for altering municipal boundaries.

The Challengers argue that even property owners who are not near the boundary are still affected by it and should be given notice. Wisconsin law provides for publication of “a class 1 notice” in a newspaper that is available to everybody in the area. The court found this to be sufficient notice to those property owners.

Both notices (direct mailed notice and newspaper notice) provided by Harrison made reference to “boundary line adjustments between the Town of Harrison and the Village of Harrison” as being part of the intergovernmental cooperation agreement. This complied with the minimal notice requirement of WIS. STAT. § 66.0301(6)(c)1 by informing property owners that the approval of the agreement would relocate many of them. The language of the statute does not specify what information is required to be in the notice.

The Court of Appeals found that Harrison fully complied with all statutory notice requirements.

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