The Cambridge Village Board has responded to an ongoing dispute with the Town of Oakland, over ownership and upkeep of streets around Cambridge High School, by hiring an attorney, reiterating its definition of road “maintenance” and laying plans for a community meeting on the issue.
The Village Board met for more than an hour Aug. 6 in a closed-door special meeting.
When it reemerged into open session, board members unanimously voted to hire Attorney Connie Anderson, at a cost of up to $3,000, to represent it in the dispute.
The move brings Anderson out of retirement. She represented the village in 2006 when Cambridge and Oakland jointly approved an intergovernmental agreement that, as part of a broad focus on future growth and development along its shared border, laid out how streets near the high school would be maintained into the future.
On July 31, the Oakland Town Board made a surprise announcement, at a joint meeting with the Village Board in Oakland, that it had petitioned the state of Wisconsin to have the rest of three town roads – Blue Jay Way, Potters Road and North Street — near Cambridge High School annexed into Cambridge.
Oakland Town Chairman Eugene Kapsner said the petition was filed July 30 and he said the Wisconsin Department of Administration has 20 business days to respond. The petition is limited to the roads; it does not ask that homes on those three streets that are still in the town be annexed into the village.
The Village Board quickly signaled that it might fight the petition.
“What happens if we don’t accept this?” Village President Mark McNally questioned before the July 31 meeting ended in deadlock.
The town and village continue to disagree over the definition of maintenance of the roads.
Oakland contends — and this summer got a legal opinion to back its view up — that under the 2006 agreement maintenance is defined as periodic reconstruction of the roads at the village’s expense.
The village, meanwhile, continues to interpret the 2006 agreement as defining maintenance to include plowing and routine work like filling potholes. Reconstruction is the town’s responsibility, it argues.
The 2006 agreement was mutually reupped by the town and village in 2016 and expires in 2026.
Based on recent estimates, the cost of reconstructing Blue Jay Way alone could range from about $60,000 if it’s simply resurfaced to upwards of $800,000 if fully reconstructed with new water, sewer and storm sewer infrastructure underneath, and upgrades like curb, gutter and sidewalk. Blue Jay Way, in front of Cambridge High School, has become an especial focus of the joint conversations, due to its state of deterioration and proximity to the school.
Who legally owns the road also remains in contention.
Oakland says that under the 2006 agreement, portions of the three roads that remain in the town were to be maintained into the future as if they were village streets. That wording handed ownership of the portions of those roads to Cambridge, though they physically remain in the town, Oakland says.
The Cambridge Village Board disagrees. It points to the $1,800 in road aid that the town gets each year as evidence that the state of Wisconsin recognizes Oakland as the legal owner of the portions of the three roads that remain physically in the town.
Per the 2006 agreement, Oakland passes that $1,800 a year to the village in exchange for maintaining the entire length of all three roads, on both sides of the town-village line.
When the joint agreement was adopted in 2006, it was believed on both sides that the three roads would gradually come into the village as homeowners chose to annex their properties into the village. The economic downtown that began in 2008 slowed that. All but two homes on Blue Jay Way are now in the village but many more homes remain in the town on the other two roads.
The Village Board, on Aug. 6, also unanimously voted to respond to the town by restating its stance on road maintenance and making clear its objection to the annexation petition.
It voted to respond to the town “in a manner that preserves the village’s options and includes that we live with the agreement as we understand it until 2026, which defines maintenance as things like snowplowing and patching, and annexation of roads should only occur when adjacent properties are annexed.”
The Village Board also on Aug. 6 directed its village staff to gather input from Cambridge residents on the dispute, possibly in a community meeting in September. No date for a meeting has yet been set.
Kapsner said Oakland filed the annexation petition because Cambridge had weighed in the past whether to annex the rest of Blue Jay Way into the village. The village found at the time that it could not, because doing so would have created illegal islands out of two homes on Blue Jay Way that remain in the town. State law has since changed, however, now allowing the roads to be annexed into the village but the abutting homes to remain in the town, even if those homes become an island surrounded by village roads and other village property.
“The village has already looked into annexing the road. This isn’t anything brand new,” Kapsner said on July 31. “So, we are petitioning the state to have (the remaining stretches of the roads) annexed into the village, and here is the paperwork,” he added, abruptly setting a thick stack of papers down in front of McNally.
Village Board member Paula Hollenbeck questioned July 31 how, if the village ever decides to install curb and gutter and sidewalks along Blue Jay Way, in front of Cambridge High School, it’s supposed to special assess homeowners along the street whose properties remain in the town. Per village ordinance, property owners are special assessed for curb, gutter and sidewalk upgrades abutting their property.
The ongoing question of who owns the roads has complicated the possibility of applying for a federal grant that could pay for 80 percent of the cost of sidewalks along Blue Jay Way in front of Cambridge High School.
“We can’t apply for a grant outside of our jurisdiction,” Hollenbeck said at the July 31 meeting. “We can’t ask for a grant for something we don’t own.”
Asked by McNally if the Town Board would consider submitting the federal grant application, Kapsner responded that by October, the annexation might already be finalized by the Wisconsin Department of Administration, and that Blue Jay Way might by then wholly belong to Cambridge.