The city of Beloit has taken steps it hopes will help stop the town of Beloit from incorporating into a village, a move the city says could be “devastating” to several entities.
On Tuesday, the Beloit City Council approved a resolution allowing an annexation option for town of Beloit property owners. The town of Beloit intends to petition to incorporate its northeast portion into a village, and the council’s move allows for another option, City Administrator Lori Luther said.
The city isn’t trying to force annexation but prefers it to the town incorporating into a village, she said.
“There’s nothing imminent or mandated; it (the resolution) simply says down the road, in the future, development would make more sense to be in the city versus in the current town or future village,” Luther said.
“It is in the best interests of the metropolitan community that the area proposed for incorporation be considered for annexation to the city of Beloit rather than incorporated as a separate municipality,” a city of Beloit news release reads.
A big motivation for the town to incorporate is the Alliant Energy Riverside plant that lies within the portion of the town that could become a village, Luther said.
The plant now pays about $2.7 million in utility aid payments to Rock County and the town of Beloit. Two-thirds of the money—about $1.7 million—goes to the county, and the remaining $1 million goes to the town. The payments are in lieu of taxes because the plant provides utilities, said Josh Smith, county administrator.
Under state statutes, if the portion of the town that contains the plant became a village, the split would flip. The village would get two-thirds of the payment, and the county would be left with the $1 million.
According to the city press release, the county serves about 161,000 people, whereas the town includes about 7,700. The change would mean the town would get a far higher amount of money per capita, Smith said.
The county would have to get creative to make up the loss. The drop in revenue could affect the county’s resources to respond to the growing opioid epidemic, child abuse and other problems, Smith said.
“It would be a pretty significant hit for us,” he said.
A second power plant near the first is under construction and due to be completed by 2021.
That will increase the total payout to both the town and the county. If the town becomes a village, its utility aid payment after the plant expansion would be about $2.9 million—$1.9 million more than what it gets now, officials said.
“This is an unreasonable windfall to the town and loss to the rest of the county’s taxpayers,” the city press release reads.
Meanwhile, the west side of the town of Beloit, known as the remnant town, could lose out on the money completely. There’s no legal obligation for the would-be village to give the remnant town a portion of the Alliant money, said Diane Greenlee, Beloit Town Board chairwoman.
The remnant town isn’t sure how police and fire services would work if part of the town incorporated, officials said.
The city and town of Beloit each have their own police and fire departments. If part of the town incorporated into a village, the town’s police and fire departments would go with it. The remnant town has yet to figure out how it would get law enforcement and fire protection, officials said.
“I think it is unclear what happens to them,” Luther said.
The city originally tried to negotiate joint services with the town, but the town eventually rejected such discussions, according to the city’s release. The national trend is for less government and more shared services when possible, Luther said.
“This (the town’s) action is working in an opposite direction,” she said.
Greenlee said it was the city, not the town, that stopped responding. She took issue with other city claims, saying they were “reaching.”
The town goal isn’t to add another layer of government. The remnant town could vote to annex into the village and operate under the village board and benefit from village police and fire services. If it doesn’t, the remnant town will need to create its own town board and negotiate police and fire services, Greenlee.
Incorporation also would negatively affect the city. Unlike a town, a village’s boundaries are permanent. That means the city would be unable to annex in the direction of the village, Luther said.
“That’s a big issue,” Luther said. “It’s very difficult for landlocked cities to be economically healthy.”
Luther said it’s “very difficult” at this point to say if the town will end up incorporating.
“We’re trying to look out for best interest of this region as a whole for the long term,” she said.