By Shereen Siewert
RIB MOUNTAIN – (Updated Friday, 9:25 a.m.) The town of Rib Mountain is suing Marathon County over a plan to create a uniform addressing system, court documents show.
Town leaders held a news conference on Friday to discuss the lawsuit and their opposition to the plan. The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in Marathon County Circuit Court, challenges Marathon County’s power to make such changes in urban or non-rural roads, and asks a judge to halt the changes.
“We believe the County has exceeded its authority in trying to impose this addressing system in high-traffic urban areas such as Rib Mountain,” said Allen Opall, town chair. “This ordinance will create a lot of confusion and inflict unnecessary financial hardship for more than 150 Rib Mountain businesses and nearly 7,000 residents, as well as for the thousands of out-of-town visitors who need to locate our many hospitality-related businesses.”
The Uniform Address System was approved by the Marathon County Board February 16, 2016. The project is currently in the street renaming phase. Final installation of new street signs is scheduled to begin in 2018.
Opall said the South Area Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) District that provides fire and emergency response services to Rib Mountain and other area municipalities supports the Town of Rib Mountain’s opposition to the project and believes it will cause more confusion than safety advantages. In a recent letter to the Rib Mountain town board, SAFER Fire Chief Matt Savage wrote: “We have not experienced any delays or mishaps with the addressing in Rib Mountain with SAFER nor prior with Rib Mountain Fire Department since I started in 1996.”
The Uniform Address System requires Rib Mountain to rename more than 60 urban streets and roadways, change from four-digit addresses to six-digit addresses for every single business and residence and make sure businesses and residents install a 20” x 9” blue sign with white lettering near the entrance to their properties. Marathon County will pay up to $20 per address to help defray the cost of installing the address signs.
“The Town of Rib Mountain has always and will continue to cooperate with Marathon County, but we feel this project needs to take into consideration the excessive burdens it imposes on the more urbanized townships throughout the county,” Opall said.
Marathon is one of three Wisconsin counties that lacks a uniform address system. Duplicate addresses can lead to confusion for emergency responders, leading to slower response times that could threaten public safety, supporters of the change say.
Marathon County is one of seven defendants named in the lawsuit. the towns of McMillan, Mosinee, Stettin, Texas, Weston and Wausau are also named.
County leaders in February 2016 voted to implement the plan and set aside $1.2 million to help municipalities pay for the changes. Towns in the county are required to participate in the new system, but cities and villages can opt out.
An injunction hearing is set for April 13.