Salem incorporation committee recommends more study

This slide from Monday's presentation shows areas of the current town that the committee felt might not be allowed to incorporate along with the rest of the town.

This slide from Monday’s presentation shows areas of the current town that the committee felt might not be allowed to incorporate along with the rest of the town.

A Salem citizen committee that has been researching incorporation for a little over a year delivered a report on its findings and a recommendation to do a little more study of the issue.

The presentation was made at a special electors meeting Monday evening. Committee Chairman Michael Mike Ullstrup led the audience through an information-packed 83 slide presentation on the committee, its findings and some recommendations for next steps.

“Settle in there’s a lot of information,” Ullstrup told the audience as he began.

The goal, Ullstrup said, was to uncover the unblemished truth about incorporation, a topic he said is fraught with misinformation and “urban legends.”

“Our objective was to find truth,” Ullstrup said.

Why would the town want to incorporate as a city or more likely a village? The most compelling reasons are securing the town’s boundaries and better control over zoning decisions. Land within towns can be incorporated into contiguous village and cities, thereby reducing the tax base of the town. Town zoning decisions are ultimately made at the county level, not locally like with incorporated municipalities.

Ultimately, the group determined that there are three practical methods by which the  town could incorporate:

Traditional incorporation — This is a process involving the state Department of Administration and circuit court. It can be done without any agreement from neighboring municipalities. It is possible — maybe even likely — the state would not approve of the whole town incorporating, creating a situation where part of Salem would be a village and the rest a remnant town. It would require approval through a referendum of town voters in the area to be incorporated. Typically the process takes about two years.

Annexation — This would involve an incorporated municipality annexing the town as a whole. This would require some cooperation between the two municipalities. The whole town could be absorbed into the village (only villages are contiguous to Salem). A referendum would be required in the town, but not in the village. If negotiations between the municipalities went well, it could come together faster than a traditional incorporation.

Boundary agreement — This would involve a formal agreement between the two municipalities to become one. Ullstrup called this the “Wild West” of incorporation methods since basically anything the two municipalities agreed to could in theory be included in the agreement. Like annexation, it in theory could take less time than traditional incorporation and could bring the whole town along into the new municipality.

If Salem incorporated, perhaps the largest added ongoing cost would be full-time police protection. Villages and cities over 5,000 population are required to provide full-time police protection. Salem’s population is about 12,000. The committee determined the easiest way to do that would likely be to contract for dedicated coverage by the Sheriff’s Department, which would cost about $400,000 a year, Ullstrup said.

While a boundary agreement is in place with Paddock Lake through 2027, Ullstrup said the committee assessed the future threat of annexation from Paddock Lake as high after that. The committee had felt the threat of annexation from Silver Lake was low, the committee later ungraded that to medium when encouraging annexations became a campaign issue in the April Silver Lake municipal elections. Bristol was judged to be a low threat.

The committee offered three recommended steps forward:

1.) Decide if becoming incorporated is desired. Some factors to consider would include: Higher operational costs, but also opportunity for savings; transition costs will be incurred; a village’s borders are secure; a village controls its own planning and zoning and can react more quickly to the needs of residents and businesses; some of the current Town of Salem could be left behind, especially in a traditional incorporation; are there timing opportunities/threats that need to be considered and is the town willing to start spending money and focusing resources on this effort?

2.) Work through the density question. This would help determine if regular incorporation would risk splitting the town. The committee suggested using data from the county to come to a precise answer to this question.

3.) Determine the best method to incorporate.

Town board members were present as audience members, but no timeline for any further discussion or action was set.

Town Chairman Diann Tesar commended the committee for its hard work and bringing clarity to the subject.

“We hope we put to rest some of those urban legends” Ullstrup said.

The study process began with a motion at an electors meeting in April 2014 made by Kyle Christensen. After Monday’s meeting, Christensen said he was “very impressed” with the work of the committee his motion created.

“I initiated it for information,” Christensen said. “It’s all about gathering information.”

The presentation Ullstrup used Monday is available here. More detailed information from the committee is expected to be posted at the town’s website later this week.


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