Former landowners challenge district: Janesville WI Gazette, 1/9/07

By Carla McCann

The former owners of land recently taken by the Milton [WI] School District through eminent domain have filed a court appeal, challenging the $620,000 price paid by the school district.

The value of the 24 acres west of the high school was set by Rock County condemnation commissioners.

"Our check was delivered to the clerk of courts, and at that time the district took ownership of the title to the land," said Dianne Meyer, the district's business manager.

But the former owners of the land - Rollin Natter of Milton, Charles Thompson of Wisconsin Dells and Bette J. Shadel of Janesville - filed appeal in Rock County court Jan. 3 seeking "a determination of just compensation by a 12-person jury."

Meyer said the lawsuit doesn't void the district's ownership of the land. If the former landowners win the suit, however, the district may end up paying more for the property.

The landowners wanted to sell to the district, Ekedahl said, but the problem was setting a price.

A district appraisal valued the land at $620,000, but an appraisal by the landowners values the land at $926,600.

Under the eminent domain law, the district can take property for just compensation even if a landowner is unwilling to negotiate a price for its sale.

Residents voted unanimously Dec. 11 in a special meeting to give the district authority to buy the land.

Although the district needed voter approval to buy the land, it didn't need such approval to borrow moey if the amount is less than $1 million, said Ekedahl during the Dec. 11th meeting.

The board approved borrowing money the same evening from The Bank of Milton at a 4.7 percent interest rate.

The board's decision June 5 to use eminent domain to take the property for fair compensation followed months of futile negotiations with landowners.

Growth within the district has spurred the need for a new middle or high school within three to five years.

Because the land is across from Schilberg Park's athletic fields and next to the high school, construction of another school at the site would save money by allowing grounds and facilities to be shared, Ekedahl said.

"It will allow us to move forward in planning for growth," she said.

Janesville WI Gazette: http://www.gazetteextra.com