By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — The City of Wausau will continue acting on two lawsuits relating to the incorporation of the Village of Maine and a boundary agreement among Maine, Texas and Brokaw, according to a news release issued Wednesday.
The city has so far spent more than $196,000 on legal fees relating to the two cases, according to city documents. One of those cases has already been dismissed in Marathon County Circuit Court.
Maine residents voted in December 2015 to incorporate to village status, to allow for a new boundary agreement to help Brokaw resolve its financial crisis. Since Brokaw’s central business, a paper mill, closed its doors in 2012, Brokaw is struggling to cope with more than $3 million in debt.
Wausau responded in February 2016 by filing a lawsuit that accused 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 also challenged a collective boundary agreement between Maine, Brokaw and the town of Texas that would help manage Brokaw’s debt.
Most recently, Marathon County Circuit Court Judge Jill Falstad on June 9 dismissed a case Wausau filed against the Wisconsin Department of Administration. Wausau challenged the state’s decision to approve a cooperative boundary agreement formed in 2016 between Maine, the town of Texas and the village of Brokaw. Wausau will appeal that ruling.
Wausau believes that Town of Maine officials planned incorporation during multiple unlawful meetings, designed to prevent Maine landowners from learning what was happening and its impact in preventing future annexation of their lands to Wausau, the release stated. The owners of approximately 946 acres of land in Maine have since petitioned Wausau to annex their lands, because they need and want Wausau services to facilitate development. From the beginning, this action has been about developing and using the lands in question to their maximum potential.
Wausau also contends that the boundary agreement among Maine, Texas and Brokaw is illegal and will not adequately address the financial distress faced by Brokaw water customers and taxpayers.
From the beginning, these cases have been important to local economic development. The City of Wausau is pursuing these lawsuits because left without a practical plan for development, the actions of the Town of Maine and the boundary agreement at issue will have profoundly negative economic consequences for the City of Wausau and the greater Wausau region. The landowners who petitioned Wausau for annexation did so because they cannot develop their lands to their highest and best use without Wausau services.
“Our taxpayers have already invested in substantial transportation infrastructure…to facilitate high-value economic development growth along that corridor,” the release states. “Those investments will be wasted if the land is not adequately served and developed. As a consequence, all parties involved: the landowners, the City, County, Village and our region will lose substantial tax base and job growth potential.”
The legal standards governing approval of a boundary agreement are designed to prevent these kinds of adverse consequences. The standards were not followed, which is why the City of Wausau challenged the Wisconsin Department of Administration’s approval of the boundary agreement, according to the release.
City officials say they remain committed to facilitating cooperation among property owners and local governments to promote economic development and provide appropriate public services to improve the regional economy and tax base.