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UPDATED: City taxpayers could foot legal bills on both sides of Wausau lawsuits

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By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — Wausau taxpayers are already footing the bill for nearly $190,000 in legal expenses racked up in a battle with the city’s northern communities. Now, they could wind up paying legal fees for attorneys on the other side of the fight.

Mayor Robert Mielke on Wednesday told Wausau Pilot & Review he is personally hoping for an end to the litigation but that some city council members feel strongly they have a case and want to continue.

“I don’t like Wausau being portrayed as a bad guy, but what efforts have been made to resolve this?” Mielke said. “The only ones winning are the lawyers. But I can’t override the council on this.”

Mielke also questioned whether the county has the authority to intervene.

The mounting legal bills, detailed in emails between City Attorney Anne Jacobson and Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger, are the result of a lawsuit Wausau filed against Maine over the village’s plan to incorporate. Now, the county is considering coming to Maine’s aid.

Wausau City Council President Lisa Rasmussen said it is “ironic” that Maine is seeking help from the county after the village created “expensive issues.”

“I would certainly hope the Marathon County opts not to fund Maine’s legal bills, as that would clearly appear they are using taxpayer dollars to indirectly choose sides in the matter, when they do not know the material facts of the cases,” Rasmussen told Wausau Pilot & Review. “Wausau’s reasons for moving forward with litigation are no different today than they were when the case was filed. We did not pursue litigation on a whim.”

Maine residents voted in December 2015 to incorporate to village status, paving the way for a new boundary agreement that aims to help Brokaw resolve its financial crisis. Since Brokaw’s central business, a paper mill, shuttered in 2012, Brokaw and its population of roughly 250 is struggling to cope with more than $3 million in debt.

Wausau responded in February 2016 by filing a lawsuit that accuses Maine of violating open meetings laws when planning to incorporate. The lawsuit was filed in part to allow a handful of property owners to annex their land to Wausau after the vote was final.

Then in November, Marathon County Circuit Judge Jill Falstad ruled the court cannot void the meetings that Maine held or their actions leading up to the incorporation, leaving the village’s status intact. Wausau is also challenging a collective boundary agreement between Maine, Brokaw and the town of Texas that would help manage Brokaw’s debt.

As the legal battle drags on, county leaders are increasingly concerned that Wausau’s lawsuit amounts to “unproductive litigation,” according to emails sent by Brad Karger to neighboring municipalities. One option Marathon County is considering is to help Maine with their own mounting legal debt to move the issue forward and help address Brokaw’s crippling financial issues.

Members of the county’s executive committee weighed their options Tuesday but have not yet taken any action. The amount of aid that could go to Maine has not yet been specified.

“Marathon County and their board members would be wise to let the courts decide this case,” Rasmussen said.

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