State poised to block incorporation plan

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Ryan Silvola/Beloit Daily News Officials from the Town of Beloit, City of Beloit and Rock County listen as the Wisconsin Department of Administration's Incorporation Review Board discusses the Town of Beloit's petition on Thursday. The board likely will dismiss the town's petition.

MADISON - The Village of Riverside's potential appears to be finished, with Wisconsin's Incorporation Review Board believing the Town of Beloit's petition largely does not meet the six statutory requirements.

When polled during Thursday's meeting at the Department of Administration in Madison, board members appeared to be in agreement about dismissing the petition. During the meeting, board members reviewed the six requirements before they are scheduled to make a formal decision next week. Review Board Chair Dawn Vick said the board would submit its findings to the Rock County Circuit Court by the end of the week.

In terms of the six standards, the board found the Town of Beloit's incorporation petition only met the tax revenue standard. However, the board felt the township did not meet the requirements for the following standards: compactness and homogeneity, territory beyond the core, level of services and impact on the remainder of the town. Board members debated whether or not the impact on the metropolitan community standard was met.

In a draft executive summary given to attendees at Thursday's meeting, the board released its preliminary findings before they submit revised findings next week to the Rock County Circuit Court.

Moving forward, the board has three options: 1) dismiss the petition, 2) grant it or 3) dismiss it with a recommendation that a new petition be submitted to include more or less territory as specified in the board's findings. They appeared to be split about dismissing the petition outright or dismissing the petition with a recommendation.

Vick said she was interested in options one or three.

Board member William Goehring seemed to favor option three, as it gave the board members the chance to come back and include less of the west side, while addressing concerns about the remnant township.

If the township were to incorporate, land to the east of Afton Road would become the new village, while land to the west would remain a township.

Board member Rich Eggleston is voting for option one, because he said there's a "certain amount of cynicism" in the township's application, adding he doesn't believe it's the review board's job to provide recommendations.

"If they want to come back, they can come back with an entirely new proposal, and there would be a time delay which might provide more time for this development that everyone wants to occur," Eggleston said. "It might do a whole bunch of other things, but it also might foster the identity of the metropolitan area as not just Beloit versus Janesville versus the Town of Beloit versus Rockford... (but) it could cement the metropolitan community as a whole. So let them work on that."

Board member Steve Ponto agreed with Eggleston.

"I think there are some endemic problems that aren't going to be solved by trimming here or there, but I do think the area would be better off in general with having fewer governmental identities," Ponto said. "I think that duplicating municipal governments is terribly expensive, and some of these problems even if you reduce the area aren't going to be solved."

Board member Terry McMahon voted for option three.

In the preliminary executive summary, the board wrote that the compactness and homogeneity standard is not met. The board thought that the east and west side would not be homogeneous, as the east side contains 89 percent of the village's proposed population.

In terms of territory beyond the core, the board found that this standard was not met due to the petition including large tracts of agricultural lands on the west side of the Rock River, with there being modest past building growth. The board notes that the east side of the proposed village does meet the standard, with the village interested in creating an Uptown District in the land surrounding Inman Parkway.

The board believes the level of services standard was not met, because the board found that the town hasn't shown how municipal sewer and water will be provided to the southern portion of the west-side in the town's proposed village.

The impact on the remainder of the town standard was found to be not met, because the board stated there would be isolated town islands that would exist with no agreement to solve the problem. The board also found the remnant town's finances problematic, as the town would lose all of its buildings, equipment and facilities as well as the Alliant Energy revenue while taking on 20 percent of the town's current debt.

The board decided the tax revenue standard was met, because the board found its proposed budget to be reasonable, the tax rate has room to increase and the town already provides the type of services that it proposes to continue.

In the preliminary findings, the board felt as though the impact on the metropolitan community standard was met. However, a debate ensued about whether or not the Alliant Energy revenue switch renders this standard as not met.

Currently, the township receives one-third of the shared revenues from the Alliant Energy plant, while the county receives two-thirds. However, if incorporation is successful, the ratio would be reversed.

The county currently receives about $1.7 million annually, while the town receives slightly less than $1 million. However, Alliant is currently constructing the West Riverside power plant. When the new energy center is operational, and if incorporation is approved, the new village would receive approximately $3 million, while the county would receive $1.8 million. Town officials have pledged not to make the ratio swap until the new plant is operational.

Some board members felt as though the county having more funds would better serve the public, while others felt as though energy would be better spent on lobbying lawmakers to alter state statutes regulating power plant revenue distribution.

Town Chair Diane Greenlee said she hopes the board is leaning toward option three. That way, the town can regroup and weigh which options are best for the town moving forward.

City of Beloit and Rock County officials have opposed the town's incorporation bid, calling it a money grab for the Alliant revenue.

Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther said the city is encouraged by the direction the review board appears to be taking.

"Ultimately what the city has been interested in is trying to have cooperative services being provided. It seems an unnecessary duplication to have some of the town's services and city services running side by side," Luther said.

She said if the town had been willing to consolidate police and fire services with the city, she said the city wouldn't have necessarily opposed incorporation efforts. However, Luther said the city also is concerned about the revenue from the Alliant energy plant and the services she believes would be negatively impacted if the revenue swap were to occur.

"A lot remains to be decided, but at the end of the day we all need to work together in a positive fashion, and we hope our neighbors will be willing to do that," Luther said.

Rock County Administrator Josh Smith could not be reached for comment.

Town officials contend the primary reasons for the town's incorporation bid are to protect the municipality from annexation and to give the proposed village greater access to economic tools, such as the ability to create tax increment financing districts.

"It's very unfortunate how the adversarial positions the city and county took affected this process," Greenlee said.

She also denounced the efforts of some west side residents who took an active role in opposing incorporation, even though some took part in crafting a deal between the proposed new village and remnant town.

"I think we've done everything we could to include the entire town in the (proposed) village," Greenlee said.

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