170907_BELOIT_GR1

TOWN OF BELOIT

A video of the town of Beloit’s lawyer arguing against another community’s 2015 incorporation has flustered some of the town’s west-side residents and sown distrust over the town’s handling of its pending incorporation.

In the 2015 YouTube video, attorney Stan Riffle—who represented the city of Brookfield—tells the state Incorporation Review Board the Brookfield Town Board “can’t possibly promise” an intergovernmental agreement between a would-be village and its remnant town.

“If you have a situation where this new village board and the remnant town board don’t get along, you’re going to have litigation,” Riffle says in the video. “It can be a tremendous cluster.”

The video was posted last June, likely by a resident on the west side of Afton Road—the part of the town that would not be incorporated into the village of Riverside. Some say Riffle’s arguments in the video are troubling, leading several residents to believe incorporation would leave the west side with pricier public services and higher taxes.

The town’s incorporation petition is now before the Incorporation Review Board, which has 180 days to make a decision. If it approves the petition, it will be sent back to the town, which will ask voters for final approval in a referendum.

In December, town Chairwoman Diane Greenlee appointed three residents from the would-be remnant west side and the would-be village to a citizen’s advisory committee to flesh out an intergovernmental agreement that would guarantee shared services with the remnant town.

The town board is set to vote on that agreement May 7, and town officials have touted it as “ironclad,” guaranteeing shared services for 99 years.

Dave Sterna, who lives on the west side and sits on the committee, said the service agreement discussions were fair, adding they “smoothed out a lot of the rough edges on this.”

But as Riffle argues in the video, a contract between the town board and a government that doesn’t exist is purely speculative.

When asked about his arguments in the video, Riffle said the Beloit incorporation is “a completely different situation. I’m quite confident this agreement will be approved at the first meeting of the village board.”

West-side resident Matthew Karr disagreed, saying he doesn’t trust the members of the town board or that a shared services contract will be honored in the future.

“We’re getting stuck with some major decisions that we’re not going to have any say on,” Karr said. “I don’t think that they’re planning on ever incorporating or annexing anybody on the west side. It just doesn’t sound right to me.”

Karr and Sterna were among 123 residents who signed a petition opposing incorporation.

Sterna said he signed the petition to have a seat at the table in discussions, not because he was necessarily against incorporation.

“If you don’t sign that, then you have no legal standing,” Sterna said. ““Without that (petition), no one on the west side would be able to say a word.”

Others who signed the petition said they were opposed to incorporation, fearful of rising taxes from public services, such as police, fire and public works. Others said they believe the town board isn’t concerned about their incorporation worries.

Greenlee’s joint committee was a move to bridge a growing divide between the town’s east and west sides. But the meetings have not been publicly posted, nor has the town posted agendas. A lawyer with the Wisconsin Newspaper Association told The Gazette the town likely is violating the state’s open meetings law.

Town Clerk Karry Devault said those meetings weren’t violating open meetings law “in my opinion, but I never asked an attorney. It was never talked about.”

“It wasn’t intentional to hide anything or go behind anybody’s back,” Devault said. “It wasn’t anything formal. They were just appointed by the chairman (Greenlee).”

David Karr, Matthew’s father, lives on the town’s east side and would be in the new village. Like Sterna, he was one of the 123 residents who signed the opposing petition, but he isn’t explicitly against incorporation.

“I’m a little uncomfortable. It seems like there’s not enough information,” he said. “Why would it change things (on the west side)? And if it does change something, that’s what’s wrong with it. That’s not a good thing.”

Under the current intergovernmental agreement, specific service costs for the west side are not addressed. Rather, the document states the costs will be the “ratio of the assessed valuation of all the taxable property” in the municipalities.

Sharing one town clerk, administrator, treasurer and other “support staff” between the municipalities is also an option listed in the document.

While the document eventually might be void, Sterna said it’s just one small piece of a much larger discussion. As the process continues, Sterna said he wants the west side to remain objective and optimistic, open to ideas and options.

“A number of us just played our part to put something together that would fairly service the west side,” Sterna said. “Depending on how things play out, it may be used. Who knows what’s going to happen.”

Unlike some people who were interviewed, Sterna said there is “not animosity” between him and the town board. The discussion are “just a bunch of adults working through a process,” he said.

Incorporation “can work,” he said. “Is it going to be the most fair thing? I hope so. I might have some reservations. Right now, I’m not letting reservations get in the way of doing our part to sort this out.”

Click here to watch Riffle’s entire remarks to the Incorporation Review Board in the 2015 town of Brookfield case.{/span}

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