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Pewaukee mega-church vows to fight city's fees

City counters church is seeking special treatment on storm-water costs

May 19, 2014

A Pewaukee mega-church facing possible loss of its property over unpaid storm-water management fees said Monday it will fight the action, which it called just the latest act of harassment against it by the city.

Spring Creek Church, N35-W22000 Capitol Drive in the City of Pewaukee, has never paid the fees assessed against all city property owners beginning in 2010.

Earlier this year, Waukesha County filed an action to foreclose on the tax liens, which have grown to more than $50,000.

On Monday, the church suggested it has been the victim of discrimination, harassment and intimidation for two decades, since it moved to the site from Wauwatosa.

"While the Church does have the resources to cover these phantom fees, it should not be asked to pay user fees when it is not a user," read a statement issued through Laughlin Constable, a Milwaukee public relations firm.

"The two-decade pattern of demonstrated harassment has reached a point where it has become necessary to take a stand and shed light on this sad pattern of conduct by the City."

City attorney Stan Riffle said Spring Creek Church seems to want to be treated differently from every other property owner in Pewaukee, which all pay a storm-water utility fee, other churches and nonprofits included.

The Legislature gave municipalities the option to create storm-water utilities to help implement storm-water controls mandated by the state Department of Natural Resources.

"They just won't listen," Riffle said. "If they really feel aggrieved, they should go to the Public Service Commission, but they won't because they know the answer."

Riffle was referring to the PSC's 2012 review of an informal complaint by the church, which found Pewaukee's storm-water charges reasonable.

Tom Stricker, the former chairman of the church's board of deacons, said the church spent $300,000 for on-site storm-water detention and treatment, and that other runoff from the 99-acre site goes to a wetland not connected to Pewaukee's storm-water system.

In its report, the PSC noted that the church and its members all benefit from improvements constructed by the city with the storm-water fees, such as reduced street flooding and cleaner watersheds.

The PSC report, while finding the city's fees reasonable, did recommend that the city grant the church the full 40% credit available under the city's storm-water management ordinance.

Riffle said the city has offered to give that 40% credit going back to 2010, but the church still "hasn't paid a penny."

Asked what else made up the decades of intimidation, Stricker said that when the church first looked to buy its current property, someone with the city told church officials that the community didn't want "a black church."

He said the development agreement required the church to give up 11 acres to the city, that it took years of work by lawyers to nail down the church's tax-exempt status, and that the city told We Energies that church land would be a good location for a substation, without ever notifying the church.

Tom Halloran, an attorney for the church, said that in addition to defending against the county's tax lien foreclosure, he will be exploring "all potential avenues to address this 20-year pattern of discrimination and harassment."

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Homestead Animal Farm: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. weekends, W320 N9127 Highway 83, Hartland. Corn maze, hayrides, barnyard animals, pumpkins and other fall items. $6 maze, $2 hayrides, $2 animals, $9 all three. (262) 966-3840.

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