Future middle school site

Vacant farmland on County Hwy. MM just beyond the northern Village of Oregon boundary into the City of Fitchburg might someday house a new middle school.

While the Oregon School District has been planning to someday build a new middle school just outside the Village of Oregon, some trustees aren’t sure serving that site with water and sewer utilities is a good idea.

Monday, May 4, the Village Board asked administrator Mike Gracz to share their concerns with the City of Fitchburg – where the land is located – and the district before drawing up any agreements to help make that site usable.

Those concerns include the cost the village would incur, legalities of providing service outside its boundaries, whether village first responders would have jurisdiction and even whether the village’s sewer system has the capacity to add a school to its system.

The main problem lies with the location of the site – a vacant farm field just north of McDonald’s, 1029 N. Main St., along County Hwy. MM, which the district purchased in 2018. While it is in Fitchburg, it’s much closer to the existing utility infrastructure of Oregon.

The board had considered authorizing attorney Matt Dregne to prepare an initial impact analysis of the village providing water and sewer services.

But some argued the village wouldn’t derive any revenue from such an undertaking, as schools are exempt from property taxes and having a school outside the village’s jurisdiction would cost taxpayers even more.

“I don’t understand the incentive the village has to get involved with this,” trustee Jerry Bollig said during discussion.

Dregne told trustees it is a general rule that municipalities don’t typically extend water and sewer services to a site of land without that land being annexed to the municipality. Because of that, he said it is usually in a municipality’s best interest to not provide such services beyond its borders.

But the location poses an unusual challenge, he said.

Such agreements have happened before – Dregne pointed to the Oregon Correctional Center as an example, at 5140 County Hwy. MM, in Fitchburg city limits.

But some questions would need to be addressed first, he said, including how the public utility could feasibly extend water and sewer services lawfully, what the financial impacts are and if there are other service-related impacts.

To answer the first question, Dregne said Wisconsin law would allow the village to limit its service obligation to the school. To address financial impacts, the village would need to examine whether the capacity of its wastewater treatment plant would need any updates.

Increased traffic is another question, as is who would serve the school as a first responder, Dregne said.

If the village declines to provide overall services, the district would be in a tough decision: “They bought land that is undevelopable, period,” Dregne speculated.

Bollig said he did not have sympathy for the district’s predicament in that regard.

“Before they even bought (the land), they should have had this discussion,” Bollig said. “If we choose not to cooperate, the blame is on us. I don’t feel so bad about that.”

Trustee Cory Horton and David Donovan echoed that sentiment.

“I wished the schools talked to us more,” Horton said.

Donovan said it wouldn’t be in the village’s interest at all.

“I don’t want to spend taxpayer dollars on it,” Donovan said.

Email Emilie Heidemann at emilie.heidemann@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @HeidemannEmilie.