At the start of a joint meeting between the Town of Liberty Grove and the Village of Sister Bay on Nov. 27, town board member John Lowry made it clear that his board was not relinquishing a claim of ownership of the shared wastewater plant yet. Despite a mutual understanding that Sister Bay was named as the owner in the municipalities’ first operating agreement in 1988, the town may still claim equitable ownership if other matters are left unsettled.
One of those other matters – revenue from the sale of a sludge-spreading site south of Ellison Bay known as the Larson property – covered some ground on the decade-old dispute.
The Larson property was purchased with funds from both municipalities and grant money from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in 1991. It was intended to be used to spread sludge leftover from wastewater treatment. Sludge was never spread there and technological advances have since made sludge spreading sites obsolete. In 2012, the village sold the piece of land for $250,000 to Jim Seaquist.
Although Liberty Grove, including the sanitary district, contributed $41,982.13 to the original purchase of the property, they have not seen any proceeds from the sale. After some mathematical disputes, it was determined that Liberty Grove’s cut should be approximately $109,000.
Lowry, who has questioned Sister Bay’s finances in the past, asked where the money from the property sale is.
“In a bank account earning interest,” said Sister Bay Finance Director Tasha Rass. “It’s been there since we received it.”
As of Oct. 31, 2017, the account has generated $4,845.10 in interest, bringing the total to $254,845.10.
The village wants to keep the funds in an escrow account until both municipalities sign a new operating agreement, including a decision on who owns the plant. Liberty Grove wants their money now.
Lowry made a motion to reject Sister Bay’s offer to put the funds in an escrow account and demanded payment by check no later than Dec. 20. The motion passed 4-1 with Hugh Mulliken opposed.
“I’m not sure I like [the village’s proposal],” said Mulliken. “But if it facilitates coming to an agreement within a certain amount of days, I would be happy to do that.”
“I don’t agree it is tied to plant ownership,” said Liberty Grove board member Nancy Goss. “I believe that is Liberty Grove taxpayer’s money and it should be here.”
In 2015, Liberty Grove sent an invoice to Sister Bay for $138,087.89 for its portion of the sale of the Larson property, which the village never paid.
Because the money is currently in Sister Bay’s coffers, their board will need to go into closed session to discuss any payment, which the village hopes to bring back to the town at the next joint meeting on Dec. 11, although there are not any special Sister Bay Village Board meetings scheduled before that date.
“That’s something that the balance of my board would like to see,” said Mulliken. “I think it would be a step in the right direction for cooperation.”
The town and village also discussed annexation into the village as a requirement of sewer service.
The village currently has a provision in its zoning code requiring annexation if sewer service is extending outside village lines, which Liberty Grove finds unacceptable.
The two municipalities are working on a new intergovernmental agreement to determine when and if annexation would accompany wastewater extensions into Liberty Grove. This agreement may be in the form of an extraterritorial zoning agreement where Sister Bay would be able to exert some zoning control over lots within a maximum of 1.5 miles from the village line.
“It would be some sort of intergovernmental agreement where the village would be able to require annexation based on a density requirement,” said Liberty Grove attorney Jack Bruce. Higher-density developments would require annexation.
To determine where expansion of the wastewater system might occur, the two municipalities will review the Sister Bay Comprehensive Utilities Plan Action Committee (CUPAC) report, which details possible expansion of the system into Liberty Grove and associated costs. From there, the two boards will draw the lines around Sister Bay within which the village would exercise some annexation control based on density of development.
The village and town will meet again Dec. 11 at 5:30 pm at the Liberty Grove Town Hall.