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State Supreme Court sides with Marathon County in readdressing fight

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WAUSAU PILOT AND REVIEW

MADISON, Wis. — In an opinion released early Thursday, the state’s highest court sided with Marathon County in the ongoing fight with Rib Mountain over county-wide uniform addressing.

The state Supreme Court considered two issues: whether the term “rural” means “unincorporated,” and whether implementing an ordinance requiring the change exceeds the county’s authority granted by state statute. The court accepted the case Oct. 9.

Corporation Counsel Scott Corbett argued on behalf of the county, while attorney Dean Dietrich presented arguments for Rib Mountain.

An appeals court decision handed down June 5 sided with the town of Rib Mountain when officials challenged Marathon County’s power to make such changes in “non-rural” roads. Marathon County Circuit Judge Greg Huber in August ruled in the county’s favor, but the decision was stayed pending the town’s appeal.

Now, that decision has been reversed.

The argument stems from a Feb. 16, 2016 ordinance mandating a uniform addressing system throughout Marathon County. According to the ordinance, the county’s intent was to assign each location a unique address to aid emergency personnel in providing fire protection, emergency medical services and law enforcement services. The plan required all towns in Marathon County to participate, asserting that the county had jurisdiction over addressing in unincorporated areas based on Wisconsin law.

Marathon County then notified Rib Mountain that they would be required to rename 61 of the town’s 202 roads. Rib Mountain responded by filing an instant lawsuit against the county.

Rib Mountain argued that the county’s authority to implement the system extended only to rural areas in towns, and that the county failed to consider whether the roads affected by the plan were truly rural. Rib Mountain also alleged that some of the roads pegged for renaming had previously been identified as roads located in urban areas by either the Marathon County Metropolitan Planning Commission or the U.S. Census Bureau, according to court filings.

In the appeals court decision, judges ruled that the county exceeded its authority by mandating the uniform addressing system without regard to whether those areas qualify as rural.

The high court ruled that the county does have the authority to establish a rural numbering system in towns, and that the county acted appropriately. Justices also rejected Rib Mountain’s argument over the use of the term “rural.”

“‘Rural’ merely describes the naming or numbering system and affording it any meaning beyond this would require reading additional words into the statute, which we decline to do,” the justices stated.

Chairman Allen Opall has released the following statement regarding the released decision by the State Supreme Court this morning:

“Rib Mountain is disappointed with the Court’s decision. We will meet with legal counsel to discuss details of the Court’s ruling and the next steps.” The Town of Rib Mountain Board Supervisors are scheduled to meet in closed session to confer with legal counsel on Tuesday, May 21, following the regular Town Board meeting.”

Marathon is one of three Wisconsin counties that lacks a uniform address system. The village of Weston opted out of the addressing change last year.

Read the full decision here.
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