Wis. Supreme Court sides with Marathon County, overturns lower court's decision on readdressing

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MADISON, Wis. (WSAW) -- The Wisconsin Supreme Court has reversed a lower court's decision that sided with Rib Mountain and permitted them to be exempt from a countywide readdressing project.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-0 on Thursday that the law allows counties to establish such systems in towns and the term "rural" merely describes the system and doesn't limit counties' authority.

Marathon County Corporation Counsel Scott Corbett told NewsChannel 7 he's grateful for the court decision.

"We believe that that Marathon County has has the authority to create addressing systems in towns. And the goal of that was always public safety... with respect to why the the statute was passed originally in 1957, and that remains the same. I think Marathon County is going to
go forward now and work with the town of Rib Mountain to develop a plan for implementation of uniform addressing as efficiently as we can, going forward," Corbett explained by phone.

Rib Mountain Chairman Allen Opall released this statement: Rib Mountain is disappointed with the court's decision. We will meet with legal counsel to discuss details of the court's ruling and the next steps."

The court heard oral arguments in February from the lawyers representing Marathon County and the Town of Rib Mountain

The parties asked the Supreme Court to define the meaning of 'rural' in state statute.

In December 2018, the Wisconsin Counties Association asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reverse an Appeals Court's decision to allow the town of Rib Mountain to be exempt from Marathon County's readdressing project.

According to its website, the WCA provides counties with insurance programs, education, research, grant development and consulting services.

In June, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals sided with the town of Rib Mountain following town's decision to not participate in the countywide readdressing plan due to Marathon County's interpreted definition of the word "rural".

The WCA stated that decision left many counties guessing the meaning of the word 'rural' and calls the validity of ordinances across the state into question.

At the oral argument in February, Corbett argued why Rib Mountain should be included in the county's readdressing project. He said the statue was created in 1957 and so much has changed since then. He said the readdressing project was implemented to removed duplicated addresses in the county for public safety reasons.

He said the word rural is the same as town or unincorporated.

"So counsel, what would you tell us we should do with that term—rural? Should we just ignore it?," asked Justice Daniel Kelly.

"No, I'm not saying you should ignore it. I’m saying you should look at it in the text, and you should look at it in the context. And you should interpret it as meaning unincorporated," Corbett said.

Dean Dietrich represented the Town of Rib Mountain. In February, Judge Pat Roggensack asked why Rib Mountain is suing.

"Counsel, what is the big problem for the town to go along with this? I know the statue is entitled. I know it’s just a title. But the whole 59.54 is public protection and safety. So, the county’s not doing this to be punitive. What is it that bugs the town so much that they don’t want to go along with it?," she asked.

"In the end the town chose they wanted to keep a portion of the town the way they are," Dietrich said. "There is nothing in the record that says that there has been problems with fire protection and emergency services in the Town of Rib Mountain."

The project issued six-digit house numbers to businesses and homeowners throughout the county. Duplicate road names were also changed. The project is not complete. Towns in the western half of the county are in progress. Readdressing has not yet begun for properties in the north western portion of the county.

The town of Rib Mountain board supervisors are scheduled to meet in closed session May 21.