Despite feeling singled out in the budget the state Legislature sent to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk early Thursday, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi was relieved to see one rumored provision omitted.
Republican legislators added last-minute provisions to the state budget — which is expected to be signed by Walker on Sunday — that eased Dane County’s insurance requirements for Enbridge Energy’s Line 61 pipeline and shifted control over governance of the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District away from the county. But they did not add a provision that would have allowed towns to opt-out of Dane County’s shared zoning authority.
Under current Wisconsin law, cities and villages control decisions on rezoning farmland for residential or commercial construction, but most towns share the authority. Both the town and the county hold veto power over proposals.
Tim Roehl, vice president of Dane County Towns Association and town of Middleton board member, could not be reached Friday but has said that towns want autonomy to allow more development and help grow tax base to pay for town services.
In May, the Towns Association hired conservative lobbyist and former state Sen. Bob Welch to push for an opt-out provision in the budget, but Parisi’s staff has said it is not necessary, citing the county’s infrequent vetoes of zoning changes over the previous four years.
From 2011 through the end of last year, only 13 of 593 rezoning or conditional-use permits in Dane County were not approved. Towns turned down six, while the county turned down seven that had been approved at the town level.
Josh Wescott, chief of staff for Parisi, said he hopes the push from towns to opt-out is dead and reiterated his support for shared zoning authority.
“It’s why the county, to this point, has been able to successfully strike that balance of having one of the top ag-producing counties in the nation while at the same time adding more jobs than anybody else,” he said. “We kind of have the best of both worlds here, and we accomplish that by keeping all the stakeholders at the table.”
But assuming it escapes Walker’s veto pen, the budget will create an avenue for the town of Windsor to gain zoning autonomy by incorporating into a village. A budget amendment added in May would allow the town to bypass the Department of Administration’s Incorporation Review Board and incorporate with just a town referendum.
The Windsor push was motivated by more than a decade of land disputes with DeForest. Annexation attempts by DeForest prompted merger talks and lawsuits until the scuffles were temporarily settled in 2010 when both boards approved a 20-year boundary agreement.
Windsor town Chairman Bob Wipperfurth said he was supportive of the Towns Association’s efforts to provide an opt-out.
“There’s a disparity among cities, towns and villages and sometimes towns are looked at almost as second-class citizens. We just don’t have the legal protections that cities and villages do,” Wipperfurth said. “Once those agreements expire, we’re subject to annexations again and we’re just thinking forward and want to protect our boundaries.”
It’s unclear whether other Dane County towns might pursue a similar strategy to Windsor, but Wescott believes it’s unlikely except for a few of the more developed towns such as the town of Middleton.
“I wouldn’t anticipate it. I think the town of Windsor situation is a little unique because of past border conflicts with the village of DeForest. I don’t think their case is particularly related to its relationship with Dane County,” he said.