DOVER — The Town Board and Eagle Lake Manor Community Association have decided to file a lawsuit to try to block the Racine County Board of Drainage Commissioners from completing a massive annexation of Dover’s land into the Eagle Creek Drainage District.
The annexation would see an additional 5,700 acres of land in Dover — including the town’s most densely populated areas, the Kansasville business district and the subdivisions surrounding Eagle Lake — added to the drainage district, more than doubling its size.
Homeowners would pay a minimum of $50 per year, whereas farm owners would pay an annual rate of $5.71 per acre. Dover Town Chairman Sam Stratton came out against the annexation shortly after it was announced, likening it to “taxation without representation,” referencing that the Drainage Board is an appointed, self-governing body that is independent of Racine County government.
From Sept. 1, 2017, to Aug. 31, 2018, the Eagle Creek Drainage District collected about $64,000 in assessments, and Drainage Board Chairman Alvin Wilks said in March that the district would collect about $120,000 with the proposed new boundaries.
The current boundaries are confined to areas west and north of Eagle Lake and small patches of land in Rochester and the Town of Burlington.
The Drainage Board, which manages five drainage districts to control flooding and runoff by maintaining creeks, canals, drainage ditches and drain tiles, has not done enough to benefit Dover residents, Stratton asserted.
“In my perfect world, they would just come to the table and agree to discuss some issues within the Town of Dover,” Stratton said.
Michelle Vanek, president of the Community Association, said she plans to work with state officials to try to make drainage board commissioners elected officials, not appointed.
Under state law, they are appointed by circuit courts.
She also said she would like to see non-farmers on drainage boards.
Stratton and Town Supervisor Jared Gallien voted during Monday night’s Town Board meeting to file suit, and Eagle Lake Manor Community Association members voted on June 29 to file a suit. Of about 30 town residents present at Monday’s meeting, 28 were in favor of filing a suit, Stratton said.
It was not clear Tuesday whether the association and town’s suits against the Drainage Board would be filed jointly. Vanek said Town Attorney Peter Ludwig had informed her that the suits would be filed jointly. Richard Scholze, the association’s attorney who works at the same law office as Ludwig, said he was not sure whether the suits would be filed jointly.
Ludwig did not respond Tuesday to a message left at his office or an email.
Wilks, reached by phone Tuesday, was shocked and audibly angered to learn of the impending litigation and declined to comment further.
“Why would I be the last to know?” Wilks said. “I don’t have any thoughts after hearing that news.”
Stratton said the Town Board on Monday, after a suggestion from Vanek, directed Ludwig to explore how the town could create its own separate drainage district.
“We would rather pay the Town of Dover and have the monies kept here,” Vanek said.
The district currently only benefits farmers, she asserted, adding that Drainage Board commissioners have left homeowners with unanswered questions.
“I’m all about helping the farmers, don’t get me wrong,” she said. “But the amount of money that they’re bringing in, and them stating they’re going to benefit us, it’s not. It’s benefiting them. We just want them to be honest and upfront.”
Creating a new district is possible, but difficult and rare, said Christopher Layton, drainage district program manager for the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
“It’s a lengthy, trying and potentially expensive process,” Layton said.
Even if the town were to create its own district, he said, that district would still fall under the jurisdiction of the county Drainage Board because state statutes fully vest control of drainage districts to county boards.
The Drainage Board previously said it needed DATCP to approve the annexation, but Layton said the board filed the annexation under a statute that does not need DATCP approval.
“Any kind of oversight of that type of annexation would have to happen in a courtroom,” Layton said.
The only things the board would need approved are plans for projects within the district.