Franklin — More than a hundred residents filled City Hall at Tuesday's Common Council meeting to voice their opposition to a sanitary sewer system tax before officials entered a closed session to discuss a lawsuit claim against the city and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.
The lawsuit's notice of claim has been prepared by Kerkman & Dunn on behalf of Timothy Dertz and Basil Ryan and more than 1,000 other property owners, and seeks to recoup and terminate the tax levy imposed by MMSD.
As of last year, Franklin is part of the MMSD and therefore taxed regardless of whether they use the sanitary sewer system. Property tax records show that property owners were charged anywhere between $200 to $1,500.
The policy has been a bone of contention for those with private septic tanks or with little hope of hooking up in the near future because the city's master plan doesn't call for development in their areas.
Ryan, a former alderman, said he organized the lawsuit because laws on the books forbid MMSD from incorporating Franklin into its tax levy unless one of two things happen: Either the city approves and consents to it, or MMSD conducts a biannual review with a promise to hook up property owners within 10 years.
City officials are quick to say they never gave consent, that MMSD's decision to expand its district and apply the new property tax levy was outside the direct control of the city and was never approved by the city.
But MMSD representatives say it did, pointing to a 2010 intergovernmental agreement it entered with Franklin in 2010.
Bill Graffin, the sewage district's public information officer, said Franklin officials lobbied MMSD for years to bring the interceptor to the city. He said it was always in the district's long-range plans to extend services into Franklin, and the city's financing plan expedited the process.
The intergovernmental agreement included the city borrowing a low interest loan of $31 million by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. While Franklin initially assumes the loan, the plan calls for MMSD to begin buying the sewer from Franklin in 2017 and take ownership in about 2031.
"Part of that agreement was that all of Franklin come into the MMSD service area. They agreed not to object to that," Graffin said.
Mayor Tom Taylor emphasized that the city pursued the Ryan Creek Interceptor and the sewer expansion because it was consistent with the city's mission to grow its tax base.
During the public comment period at Tuesday's council meeting, residents said they felt betrayed after they were told by city staff that the financing agreement Franklin entered with MMSD would not impact taxpayers.
Susan Mayer asked council members to protect her and the other taxpayers who are paying for a service they're not, and will not, benefit from.
"You knew this a long time ago, that MMSD was going to do this and you never told us. You didn't want to deal with us at the time, and you have to deal with it now," Mayer said.
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