Trust is elusive in relationships between towns and their neighboring cities and villages.
Lack of trust between the city of Eau Claire and the seven surrounding towns has led to more than two years spent reworking a city comprehensive plan that still might be far from complete.
The town of Waukesha’s bickering with the city of Waukesha over water and sewer use and a grocery store development has frayed the relationship to a point at which Town Chairman Robert Tallinger Sr. said he does not know if trust ever can be restored.
But the town of Milton and the city of Milton this week are breaking from the pack. The two sides are going to try to trust each other.
The town and city plan to sign a land-use agreement in which the city scales back its jurisdiction over town land in exchange for a town promise not to protest annexations from town areas the city still can review.
“For years, the town’s complaints have always been that we annex land, get housing developments, and we benefit from the taxes,” said Milton Mayor Thomas Chesmore. “We’ve tried to relax that a lot.”
According to state law, incorporated areas, depending on their population, can review and reject development proposals from 1½ to 3 miles beyond their borders in unincorporated areas. If the city or village approves the town development, those incorporated areas then can annex the property if the landowner files a request.
Many municipalities are hesitant to give up the power that the city of Milton is willing to concede.
David Duax, vice president of the Eau Claire City Council, said the city considered relinquishing authority over some town-owned land that, for topographical reasons, would be difficult to develop or run sewer service to. But a town could see an opportunity where a city sees nothing, he said.
“I think as a city you’re always reluctant to let go of areas you control,” Duax said, “because the concern is that 10 years from now, the town might put something up that you don’t want on your border.”
Tallinger is even less democratic about finding agreement between the town and city of Waukesha.
“They want all the cream,” he said. “Why should they have all the territorial rights?”
But the city of Milton, Chesmore said, will need town support for such city projects as extending Sunset Drive through town limits to connect to Highway 26. Continuing border battles, he said, will not help the city complete its projects.
Town Chairman Bryan Meyer said he’s willing to give the city the benefit of the doubt.
“It’s a goodwill gesture that could help us out down the road,” he said.
The Wisconsin Towns Association will use the Milton case as an example of a good relationship, but one case of playing nice likely will not change the strained relationships elsewhere in the state, said Rick Stadelman, the association’s executive director.
Chesmore said Milton is not trying to be a pioneer for other communities.
“You’re always going to have the concern that the town might approve something we don’t want,” he said.
“But we also want not to have the whole annexation issue thrown in our face all the time.
“It really was pretty easy to come to agreement.”