City of Beloit officials want the public to believe they’re defending the region’s interests by opposing the town of Beloit’s efforts to incorporate as a village.
In a Jan. 9 statement, Beloit City Manager Lori Luther portrayed the city’s northern neighbor as a greedy enclave seeking to make a “financial windfall” from the ongoing Alliant Energy Center expansion.
Well, let’s hope the town of Beloit is in it for the money. Why else would the town’s leaders embark on a years-long incorporation process, starting with filing a court petition this month? Out of a sense of civic pride?
Of course this incorporation gambit is driven by money.
But let’s not pretend the city of Beloit’s opposition stems from nobler motives, as Luther seemed to imply in her statement, “Our priority is to protect the best interests of the greater Beloit area.”
At the core of Beloit’s opposition is the fact that it cannot annex land from a village, but it can from a town. The town wraps around the western and northern sides of the city, and Beloit doesn’t want to be boxed in by a town-turned-village, making completely predictable Beloit’s opposition to the town’s petition. Being landlocked, or nearly so, is not in Beloit’s self-interest.
Taken from another perspective, the town’s petition goes against Rock County’s self-interest because the town receives only one-third of utility aid revenue from Alliant’s operation. The county gets two-thirds. By switching to a village, the former town would get two-thirds of the Alliant pie, and Rock County residents’ slice would be only one-third.
If you’re a Rock County resident living outside of the town of Beloit, this is a bad deal for you. Either your taxes increase or the county cuts spending to make up the difference should the town’s petition succeed.
Whether the town becomes a village someday depends on it meeting the state’s incorporation criteria. The current bickering between Beloit and town officials sheds some light on how the two sides are likely to argue their cases.
On some matters, such as population, there’s little question the town fits the criteria to organize as a village.
Readers might be surprised to learn that at 7,592 residents (2017 census estimate), the town of Beloit is the largest municipality in Rock County after Janesville and Beloit. That’s right, it’s larger than some Rock County cities, including Milton, Evansville and Edgerton, which each have fewer than 6,000 residents.
The entity in charge of considering the town’s petition, the state Department of Administration, will weigh other criteria, including whether the town’s territory is “reasonably homogeneous and compact” and whether portions have the “potential for residential or other urban development.”
The incorporation also must be in the public interest, and Luther’s “best interest” rhetoric suggests the city is hoping to defeat the petition on this issue. In making a fuss about the town’s proposal, Luther perhaps fuels the appearance of division within the region, which maybe doesn’t hurt the town’s case but certainly doesn’t help it.
Much of the controversy centers on a “remnant” town that for technical reasons the town of Beloit cannot include in its application to incorporate as a village. This area west of County D is the subject of negotiations between Beloit and the town.
So long as the town’s and city’s interests remain at odds, there’s little hope for the two sides reaching an agreement. The nature of the town’s incorporation request doesn’t help, either, as it creates a winner-takes-all framework, and Beloit sees itself as the big loser.