Welcome to 2022!

We want to take a moment at the beginning of a new year to express gratitude for all municipal officials and staff. We deeply appreciate your dedication and commitment to your communities. It is a privilege to work on your behalf in the State Capitol.

Turning the page to 2022, things will move quickly in the Capitol the first quarter, but all indications point to both houses completing their legislative session work in March. We will continue to bring you updates on all municipally related legislation until the end of the session. Once legislators are back in the district, please take time to meet with them, discuss municipal financing, and invite them to ribbon cuttings and grand openings. The time spent relationship building is critical to accomplishing our legislative goals.

League & Towns Association Land Use Compromise Bill

One of our proactive goals for this session has been to close a loophole in the incorporation process allowing entire towns that would not be able to meet the incorporation standards to nevertheless incorporate using a two-step process. Under the loophole, a part of a town able to meet the incorporation standards incorporates into a village and then the new village immediately adds the remaining town remnant via annexation or boundary agreement. The process blocks surrounding municipalities from future growth opportunities. Closing this loophole has been a League goal for several sessions, but legislators were unwilling to introduce our bill for fear of angering town officials and property owners. 

This session, we teamed up with the Towns Association on a compromise land use bill that includes closing the incorporation loophole. The changes the Towns seek are minor and mainly designed to eliminate strategies or aggressive actions cities and villages have not generally pursued but could take in the future. As part of our negotiations with the Towns, we also asked that the compromise package eliminate the provision in current law prohibiting municipalities from annexing across county lines.

This compromise land use package is good for municipalities. Our gains outweigh our losses by a considerable amount and with both the League and the Towns Association supporting it, the bill will have a decent chance of being enacted. Items in the bill are summarized below:

League items:
  1. Close the two-step incorporation loophole by prohibiting annexations and boundary agreements absent the approval of surrounding communities for five years after an incorporation.
  2. Allow municipalities to annex town territory across county lines.

Towns Association items:
  1. Clarify that extraterritorial land division and zoning powers do not apply to village or city islands located 1.5 (village) or 3 (cities) miles from the village/city.
  2. Prohibit cities and villages from using condemnation powers to acquire blighted properties in towns for transfer to third parties for redevelopment.
  3. Reduce the time an extraterritorial zoning freeze can be imposed unilaterally by a city or village from 2 years to 18 months and increase the waiting period between such freezes from two years to five.

Resolving Legal Title on Historic Filled Lands

Numerous Wisconsin municipalities located along the Great Lakes or Mississippi River are finding it difficult to redevelop and make constructive use of their shorelines due to legal title issues associated with the land adjacent to or near the waterway. In most cases, this land was once part of the waterway, but was filled several decades ago (generally, prior to 1960) either through natural processes or as part of a legislative or common law authorization.

There is case law that has been interpreted to mean that lakebed is owned by the public and/or protected by the public trust doctrine and thus title cannot be conveyed to municipalities or private individuals. Without resolution of these title issues, obtaining title insurance and financing necessary for the redevelopment of these properties is problematic. Keep in mind that most of the land at issue is located in urban areas, has often already been developed, and has historically been used for commercial or industrial purposes. The repurposing and redevelopment of the aforementioned properties would be in the public benefit and provide additional public opportunities while removing blight and contamination from our Great Lakes and commercial rivers' shorelines. For more information see the bill and co-sponsorship memo and an article in the Municipality Magazine from our April Land Use edition (pg. 11-13).

Both the League and Town Compromise Land Use bill and the Legal Title on Historic Lands bill will be formally introduced in the coming week.

ICYMI - NEU Updated Compliance and Reporting Guidance

In the December 20th bulletin we provided an update on NEU compliance and reporting under ARPA. In case you missed it during the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the U.S. Treasury released a new Agreements and Supporting Documents User Guide for compliance and reporting in Non-Entitlement communities (typically those under 50,000 in population). The NEU specific document creates a new reporting portal called Login.gov which is designed to be more user friendly for smaller entities. The guidance provides instructions to NEUs on setting accounts, assigning reporting roles, and providing required documentation to Treasury.