Thursday, November 5, 2009

Repeal The Oak Creek Law

It's not widely known, but Milwaukee has been forbidden since the 1950's from annexing any more land.

That's because a special statute, the so-called Oak Creek Law, was adopted by the Legislature as a slap at Milwaukee's aggressive land annexation policies, and to help budding communities on Milwaukee's borders achieve independence.

The issue at the time was whether Milwaukee or the unincorporated Oak Creek would 'win' the right to get a new Wisconsin Energy generating station and the payments in lieu of property taxes that utilities paid to the local government where such facilities were located.

Milwaukee had annexed property with the carrot of water service: how ironic in light of today's efforts to buy Milwaukee water and divert it to the suburbs which want no part of Milwaukee's boundaries and social burdens.

Only Milwaukee is forbidden to grow and add to its tax base by state law.

I'd say the time has come to repeal that law and put Milwaukee on an equal footing with other municipalities statewide.


Dave Reid said...

@Jim After being to cities like Charlotte and Houston that have annexed and annexed, I'd prefer Milwaukee keep its boundaries. Much of these cities just aren't cities.

Anonymous said...

Actually that is not entirely true - Milwaukee can still legally add territory to itself under current law and has since the 'Oak Creek' law was passed as tiny corner of SE Washington country was annexed to it in about 1963 and as part of a water supply deal, the Village of Menominee Falls ceded its part of the Ambrosia Chocolate site (at 124th/Florist) to Milwaukee in the mid-late 1980s - the effect of the 'Oak Creek' law was to surround Milwaukee with an 'iron ring' of suburbs (especially the former Franklin, Greenfield, Mequon and Oak Creek Townships, which all used that law to become incorporated cities) that don't have to give up territory without their consent.

The City of Racine is now in a similar straitjacket with Caledonia and Mount Pleasant Townships recently becoming incorporated Villages.

That law, along with a recent law that makes it seriously difficult for cities and villages to annex into new counties, should be repealed for other reasons - the 'Oak Creek' law was obsolete by the early 1960s when that 'iron ring' of incorporated suburbs surrounding Milwaukee was completed, yet it reared its ugly head again in the early 1980s, allowing what is now the City of Fitchburg to incorporate, this because the former Fitchburg Township claimed that it was adjacent to a 'city of the first class' (a classification of law that was written to only mean 'Milwaukee'), saying that because Madison had more than the threshold population of 150,000, it was a 'city of the first class' and the State Supremes agreed (a loophole that was quickly plugged by the legislature at that time), and the county line thing because it has already adversely affected economic development in the state by preventing developers from joining cities for needed services (an area of Calumet County was prevented by that new law from joining the City of Kaukauna a few years ago and remains vacant).

Wisconsin is overbloated with local governments, leading all 50 USA states in the number of units of local government with taxing authority to population ratio, and can no longer afford to support them all. The Appleton/Fox Cities area - with fewer people in total than live in two of the state's current cities - is the 'poster child' of that, Milwaukeeland is right behind it and it is a real and EXPENSIVE drag on statewide economic development. And yet ANOTHER new unit of local government was just created - a part of Bristol Township (Kenosha County) just voted a couple of days ago to incorporate itself as the Village of Bristol.

Wisconsin badly needs top-to-bottom local government reform and the sooner the better.

Michael G. Koerner
Appleton, WI

William said...

Jim, where could Milwaukee expand? Isn't all the land inside Milwaukee County now spoken for?

Joseph Thomas Klein said...

Even if you repealed the Oak Creek law, it would have no effect unless you unincorporated the resulting suburbs. Yes, it clearly was designed a way to prevent expansion of Milwaukee. It codified institutional discrimination, the first thing done in those new suburbs was to create exclusionary zoning, separate school districts, and effectively wall of the suburbs from Milwaukee.

Yes it should be repealed because it was a law written exclusively as a way to discriminate against Milwaukee. It had the effect of exacerbating racial and class discrimination, but given Milwaukee's small African American populations in 1950, it would be hard to argue clear intent.

Some argue, and data supports the contention, that the annexation of Granville prevented a steeper decline by the city. If that is the case think of the betterment that would have resulted with Oak Creek and Franklin in the city. If the unincorporated adjacent townships had been annexed, Milwaukee would have had de facto metropolitan government.

As a last point, County Lines are not a barrier to annexation, Mequon was one of the suburbs that benefited from the Oak Creek law.

If you could prove intent to damage Milwaukee, then you would have the justification for a hell of a civil rights suite against both the state and the resulting suburbs.


Anonymous said...

Bearing in mind the annexation laws that say it can happen through petition of the citizens, I wonder what West Milwaukee has to gain by staying independent. Its property taxes are very, very high, and it maintains separate municipal services, all of which the City of Milwaukee has in droves. Annexing to the City would help lower property taxes. Why not do it?

Then again, melding municipal governments into a county-wide system would do the same thing, only it would not force any suburb to bear the burden of becoming part of the dreaded city.

Anonymous said...

(Joe Klein)"As a last point, County Lines are not a barrier to annexation, Mequon was one of the suburbs that benefited from the Oak Creek law."

That was changed by a law passed and signed by Governor Doyle in, IIRC, 2003 that prevents a city or village from annexing land from a county that it is not already in without permission of that county's board as well as of the board of the township that that land will be annexed from unless there is a boundary agreement in place - and that law gives the township zero incentive to make any such agreement with that city or village.

Already adversely affected by that law is the City of Kaukauna, which was prevented from annexing a chunk of land from Harrison Township (Calumet County) that was nearly ready to go with a fairly valuable development proposal. Right now Kaukauna is entirely in Outagamie County, but its city limits extend right up to the Calumet County line. That land is still undeveloped.

Other cities that could be directly hurt by that law include Whitewater (adjacent to but not in Rock County) and Platteville, which comes very close to the Lafayette County line to its east.

An interesting case involving this is the 'village' section of the Oneida Indian Reservation along WI 54 west of Green Bay - its developed core straddles the Brown/Outagamie County line and the Brown County part is in the recently incorporated Village of Hobart. However, should the locals wish to have that area entirely in one municipality (ie, annex the Outagamie County half to Hobart), under that law, such an annexation would require the voted permission of both the Outagamie County Board and the Oneida Township (Outagamie County) Board.


Anon Jim said...

As far as the issues facing SE Wisconsin goes, arguing over which bloated corrupt tax-sucking unit of government has jurisdiction over a given area is like arguing over the layout of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

When what we need is much less Government at all levels.

This has to be one of the most pathetic postings and set of replies on this blog.

Anonymous said...

This is a pipe dream. Do you have any idea the uproar this would create? Allowing the city to annex would make the health care debate look like a preseason game next to the super bowl. This would be a political WWII. For so many people the thought of living in Milwaukee is aneurysm-inducing. "Never. It can't be."