RACINE Racines border didnt freeze overnight, but some say careless decisions made by city officials in the 1960s are what crippled its ability to annex land.
To understand what happened, one has to understand how Racine once annexed most of the land it has now and how many cities and villages still annex land today: by extending water and sewer services.
If you map the citys growth at least prior to the 1960s youll find that it annexed all properties located in the towns that it extended water and/or sewer service to. That was the exchange. To get water and sewer, the properties had to come into the city.
But then something happened.
In the 1960s city officials who then were in direct control of the citys water and sewer utilities decided to extend sewer service to a handful of properties out in the towns, without requiring that the land come into the city.
One of those properties was SC Johnsons Waxdale plant in Mount Pleasant; the others were subdivisions in Caledonia, writes former general manager of Racines Water and Wastewater Utilities Thomas J. Bunker.
Back then, the effects of those decisions may not have been clear, but the decisions essentially resulted in the city closing its borders, and limited its ability to expand into open spaces to the north and west, states Bunker in a 2006 article in the APWA (American Public Works Association) Reporter.
By failing to require Waxdale or the other properties to be annexed in exchange for the sewer service, the city essentially lost its right to make the demand to developers of other town properties, explains Keith Haas, current general manager for the Racine Water and Wastewater Utilities.
A lawyer might say since you extended services without the quid pro quo that there be annexation, you broke the golden rule, Haas said. It wasnt necessarily the Waxdale thing that broke the golden rule, but the next guy that had a subdivision, said Well Im not sure I have to annex to the city, I am going to hire a lawyer and see what he thinks.
Its not clear why the decision was made. Indeed, no one who played a major role in those decisions at the city, town or company level is alive today.
In the years that followed the fights of the 1960s, the city did annex a few parcels of land. But few of those annexations gave the city much buildable land to the north or west.
The largest parcel it annexed in the decades that followed was for the landfill.
Thats why former Mayor Jim Smith says he stands by the intergovernmental, or sewer funds, agreement the city signed with its neighboring communities in 2002.
The city could never have gotten land out of the deal, so it got money.
I think with the position we were in that was the best option we had, Smith said.