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.

Intermunicipal agreement not a “boundary agreement” exempting Village from payment requirement

by Victoria Heldt

Town of Buchanan v. Village of Kimberly
(Wisconsin Court of Appeals, December 6, 2011)

This case revolves around an agreement made between the Town of Buchanan and the Village of Kimberly regarding annexation.  In 2000 the two municipalities designated a specific area within the Town as a Village growth area.  The Town agreed not to oppose the Village’s annexation of land within the described area and the Village agreed not to try to annex land outside the area.  In 2006 the Village annexed property known as Emons Farm that was situated outside the designated Village growth area.  To settle the matter, the Village and the Town entered into an “intermunicipal agreement” in 2007.  In it, the Village agreed to pay the Town $25,000 and to refrain from attracting property owners to annex additional property in the Town.  On the other hand, it clarified that the Village may not disallow future annexation of property within the Town if a unanimous petition to do so is presented.

In 2009, the Village once again annexed property within the Town.  The Town did not object, but claimed that it was entitled to five annual payments pursuant to Wis. Stat. §66.0217(14)(a)1. This statute states that the annexation of a property cannot take place unless the party petitioning for annexation agrees to pay the Town five annual payments equal to the amount of property taxes the Town would normally collect for the property.  The Village was of the opinion that it was exempt from the payments under subd. 2 of the same statute, which states that, in the existence of a boundary agreement, the payment requirement does not apply.  The Village argued that the intermunicipal agreement made in 2007 constituted a boundary agreement, so the payments were not required.  The Town countered that the agreement was not a “boundary agreement” as defined by statute.  The circuit court ruled in favor of the Town that the agreement was not a “boundary agreement.”  It found it illogical to allow a one-time boundary negotiation for a specific instance to govern all future boundary agreements.  It opined that doing so would “render meaningless the statute.”

On appeal, the Town argued that the 2007-2008 version of Wis. Stat. §66.0301 applied while the Village argued that the 2005-2006 version of the statute applied.  The two versions were identical except that the more recent version contained an additional subsection (6) which addressed agreements “determining all or a portion of the common boundary line between two municipalities.”  The Court noted that it did not need to settle the conflict regarding which version applied since the intermunicipal agreement formed in 2007 did not constituted a boundary agreement per statute.  In order to constitute an agreement under Wis. Stat. §66.0301, it must provide for “the receipt or furnishing of services or the joint exercise of any power or duty required or authorized by law.”  Since the agreement made between the Village and the Town in 2007 contained no such provision, it did not qualify as a boundary agreement under the relevant statute.  Consequently, the payment exception in §66.0217(14)(a)2 did not apply.  The Court affirmed the circuit court’s decision in favor of the Town.

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