**Editor’s note: We incorrectly described the process for Mount Pleasant obtaining access to land for the sewer project. The story has since been corrected, and we apologize for the error.
A cooperative sewer and water agreement between the Villages of Caledonia and Mount Pleasant will help Caledonia attract business development but could end up costing some Mount Pleasant residents big bucks.
In a nutshell, the villages in 2008 signed a contract where Caledonia agreed to pay Mount Pleasant $5 million (plus interest) when and if Caledonia hooked up to the sewer connection that runs along Highway 20 out to I-94. Because there hasn’t been the corresponding connection, Caledonia hasn’t made any payments to Mount Pleasant.
Original designs called for the system to be closed, meaning residents would not have access and would therefore not be assessed for any of the work. The Village of Caledonia was considered the developer driving the project, so by state statute residents would not be required to pay.
But now, work is about to begin on running sewer and water up Highway V so a new tax incremental financing district (TIF) in Caledonia can have infrastructure in place for future development. Both the agreement and the plans have changed, triggering assessments that could run as much as $90 a foot for homeowners on Highway V, according to Racine Water & Wastewater officials at a public information meeting last month.
The case against the project
Trustee Gary Feest said residents are facing potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in assessments they can’t pay for a project he feels is still being driven by development as represented by Caledonia.
“These people are being forced to pay for development, and in my opinion that’s wrong,” he said. “This is a development-driven issue so residents should not have to pay.”
Unlike other municipal sewer projects where deferred assessments might be an option, state statute says residents can no longer defer connections and assessments. Instead, they have to tie-in within a year of the project’s completion, Feest added.
Mount Pleasant Village Engineer Bill Sasse told Racine County Eye that the new agreement between the villages spells out a combination forced (closed)/gravity system that will be open, and residents will connect to it.
“This is a combination, and Mount Pleasant is paying the difference,” he confirmed. “Residents will connect so they will be assessed.”
The total cost of Mount Pleasant’s portion of the project is estimated at about $1 million, Feest said.
Caledonia is still paying the $5 million from the 2008 contract, spread out over several years, and a portion of the interest that has accrued.
Residents put their foot down
Gale Ives opposes the new scope of the project and has serious concerns about how much he might be assessed for connections he neither needs nor wants, he said. He circulated a petition amongst his neighbors and obtained the signatures of 28 other property owners who are also against the project.
“This Village Board decision was made without notification to property owners, therefore none of us had an opportunity to address the Board about our opinions about this matter,” the petition’s introduction reads.
Ives delivered the petition to Mount Pleasant President Mark Gleason late last year. Village Administrator Kurt Wahlen responded in January, telling Ives in a letter that both the Village Board and the Sewer-Water Commission had voted on the matter in open session, but residents would have a chance to be heard at public meetings – including the February information meeting.
“A public hearing will be held related to the potential levying of assessments for the proposed sewer construction, which will occur prior to the Village Board’s consideration of (the construction award),” Wahlen’s letter reads. “The matter was voted upon by both the Village Board and the Sewer-Water Commission during public meetings. An agreement with Caledonia was subsequently signed, and preparatory-type field work has already begun.”
In order to begin the project, though, Mount Pleasant will have to buy access to the land from property owners along Highway V, commonly referred to as an easement. The homeowner retains full ownership of their property, but allows the village a certain number of feet in which to work.
At a meeting of Highway V homeowners last Monday, residents were unanimous about not selling any access to the village and forcing officials to take a more difficult legal route to get it. A community can claim eminent domain, and a judge can force the property owner to allow the necessary access for the project, but doing so can involve a lengthy court process.
Racine County Eye emailed a list of questions about this issue to Wahlen, and we will update this story when we hear from him.