Incorporation worries west siders
TOWN OF BELOIT — Residents on the west side of Beloit Township fear they will be left out if a plan moves forward to consolidate into a village, however, town officials say they are committed to making sure that all residents will benefit.
The town has flirted with consolation before, but it never has progressed this far before.
“We're at the point where we need to do this,” Town Chairwoman Diane Greenlee said. “It's the only way we will survive.”
Greenlee said the process will take some time and a vote wouldn't come until the spring of 2017 at the earliest.
Initially, the area of the town east of Afton Road would meet all of the criteria for incorporation under the Wisconsin statutes.
After that, a provision in the Wisconsin statutes would allow the new village to consolidate the remaining parts of Beloit Township.
Greenlee says town officials are committed to brining the whole town together, but there remains a concern for some residents.
“I was surprised at how much division there is between the east side and west side,” Greenlee said. “The ones on the west side are afraid they will not have a voice.”
About 400 people showed up for an informational meeting late last month, and more are in the works to continue to explain the process to residents.
Ian Haas, administrator for the town of Beloit, sees a bright future if it is incorporated into a village.
Haas said incorporation would have many benefits for the community, such as obtaining additional shared revenue from the Alliant Energy plant, as well as shared revenue from the state and federal governments. Haas said the community also would be eligible to apply for more grants.
“It just gives us greater autonomy. The new village would be able to create its own destiny and govern itself without interference, not having to worry about tax base going away,” Haas said. “We will have more opportunities available to us from day one and more financial opportunities. Honestly, there are no downsides.”
The village would be able to attract more economic development and establish Tax Incremental Financing districts, Haas said.
“We would be able to utilize TIF districts, and that would be huge for us,” Haas said. “Right now, we're a one-trick pony. All we can do now is buy land when it makes sense and grant it to a developer. We can't do that in a whole lot of incidents unless it makes sense. This would give us the opportunity to use incremental financing.”
Haas said they also would be able to secure its borders from the cities of Beloit and Janesville and other surrounding municipalities.
“The city of Beloit or the city of Janesville, if we were to incorporate, would not be able to annex any land,” Haas said. “There would be no extra territorial reviews from the cities of Janesville and Beloit, as well as the county in some areas around the river.”
Several steps have to be taken before the town could become a village. The town would have to file a petition with 50 signatures, which would then have to be approved by the town board. The circuit court would then have to verify that the petition met all the requirements and then forward it to the Department of Administration, which would then send it to a boundary committee.
The committee would have 180 days to form an opinion. The town would then have to approve a referendum. If approved, the petition would be sent back to the circuit court, which would then make its final opinion.
“So, it's quite a lengthy process,” Haas said. “Nothing has been decided (as a timeline). We're still working on all the border agreements with surrounding municipalities, the town of Newark, Rock, Turtle and the city of Beloit. Once that's done, the board can formulate whether or not to move forward with the process.”
If approved, the areas east of Afton Road would be incorporated into the village. Areas west of Afton Road could then be consolidated and would still have access to all of the village's services.
“If we secure border agreements with all the surrounding communities, the entire town could incorporate into the village. That would be Option A,” Haas said. “With Option B, if we can't get border agreements with everyone, we would annex the west side of town. Then there's Option C, which would be in place the entire time, which is an agreement guaranteeing services to the west side of the town.”
Haas said staff and services for the community would remain the same if incorporation was approved.
“It would be the same people and the same services. The only thing that would be changed is the name on the side of the buildings and vehicles,” Haas said. “Quite honestly, day to day, for the average citizen there would be no difference. There would be no effect to taxes. There should be no effect to services. Everything would literally stay the same.”
The town of Beloit has considered incorporating into a village, on and off, during the past 20 years. Haas said now would be an appropriate time for the process to take place.
“It's gotten to that point now where we're a fully functional municipality with basic services, and our services are great,” Haas said. “So, we're at that next level, so it makes sense to evolve.”
Haas said more residents seem to be in support of incorporation since the town board hosted a community meeting on Sept. 26. He said several of the residents' concerns have been addressed.
“There's been more support now than before the meeting because before the meeting there was a bit of misinformation going around, specifically about the west side,” Haas said. “People were worried about being left out in the cold, but I think the informational meeting cleared up a lot of those misconceptions. The feedback is overwhelmingly positive. I really think if the board and the residents decided that they wanted to move forward, I don't see anything stopping it.”