There have been a number of changes to the current law as a result of the most recent legislative session, many of which will affect municipalities. Summaries of these acts are provided below.

Absentee Ballots

2015 Wisconsin Act 209 clarifies that when an absentee ballot is requested prior to the 47th day before a partisan primary or general election or the 21st day before any other primary or election, the municipal clerk must send the ballot within one business day of receipt of the request. The previous language of the statute required a response within one day, which did not accommodate for weekends or holidays. All other timelines stated in the statute, Wis. Stat. §7.15, remain unchanged.

Building Permits

2015 Wisconsin Act 211 requires that the building permit form issued by the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) include a space in which the municipal authority issuing the permit must insert the name of the person to whom the building permit is issued and the number and expiration date of the certificate of financial responsibility issued by DSPS to that person. A person may not obtain a building permit without a certificate of financial responsibility from DSPS. The Act also requires cities, villages, towns, and counties to provide an annual report to DSPS that contains the name of each person to whom the political subdivision issued a building permit for the construction of a one−family or two−family dwelling and the number and expiration date of each current credential issued by DSPS to that person. A political subdivision that does not provide the report must refund to each person to whom a building permit was issued, an amount equal to the difference between the amount paid by that person to the political subdivision for that permit and the portion of the permit fee remitted by the political subdivision to the department, if any.

Library Delinquencies

2015 Wisconsin Act 169 provides that a library may report to a collection agency or, subject to the condition stated below, a law enforcement agency, information about delinquent accounts of any individual who borrows from the library or who uses the library’s documents, materials, resources, or services, including information about the number and types of overdue materials. A library may report delinquent accounts to a law enforcement agency only if the delinquency is at least $50. Under the Act, the information that may be disclosed is limited to the individual’s name, contact information, and the amount owed.

Placement of Sexually Violent Individuals

2015 Wisconsin Act 156 establishes a statewide standard for determining the placement of sexually violent individuals upon release from institutions or confinement. The Act requires the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to consult with the Department of Corrections Office of Victim Services, the Wisconsin Department of Justice, and the county coordinator of victim and witness services in the counties of intended placement, conviction and commitment in developing its recommendations for placement after release. The Act also prohibits municipalities from enforcing any ordinance restricting a sex offender from residing at a certain location or that prohibits an individual from providing housing to a sex offender if the offender is subject to supervised release, is in compliance with any court order and is residing in the location where he or she is ordered to reside.


2015 Wisconsin Act 176 amends statutes addressing a number of topics. Most relevant to municipalities are the provisions relating to regulation of rental units and historic properties. The Act confirms that municipalities may establish landmark commissions and designate or establish a historic landmark or historic district. However, before designating a historic landmark or establishing a historic district, the municipality must notify the landowner and conduct a public hearing on the matter. A landowner affected by a decision of a landmark commission may appeal the decision to the relevant municipal board or council. The Act also provides that municipalities may not enact ordinances requiring residential rental property owners to register or obtain certification or licenses relating to the ownership or management of residential rental property, unless such ordinances apply uniformly to all owners, including owners of owner-occupied rental properties. In addition, a municipality may require a landlord to register if registration is limited to providing the landlord’s name and an authorized contact person including address and telephone number.

2015 Wisconsin Act 219 prohibits adverse possession and proscriptive easements against real property that is owned by the state or a political subdivision of the state. The prohibition applies retroactively to adverse possession or use where the current 20 year occupancy requirement has not been met at the time of the effective date of the bill. In addition, the Act prohibits the state or a political subdivision of the state from acquiring real property through adverse possession.

Seized Animals

2015 Wisconsin Act 233 makes numerous changes to current law related to the treatment of an animal that is taken into custody by a local government, including when it is believed to have been used in a crime against animals. Among the modifications are: Authorizing a humane officer or law enforcement officer to take an animal into custody if the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the animal has been used in any crime against animals; authorizing a local governmental unit to withhold, or direct a person contracting with a local unit of government to withhold an animal in custody from an owner if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the owner has used the animal in any crime against animals; requiring an animal of any age that is being held in custody to be treated as an unclaimed animal if the owner of the animal is convicted of a crime against animals; and, allowing a local governmental unit or other person with custody of an animal that is believed to have been used in, or constitutes evidence of, a crime against animals under ch. 951, Stats., to demand payment from the animal’s owner for the custody, care, and treatment of the animal that is held in custody.

Tax Incremental Districts

2015 Wisconsin Act 256 makes several technical changes to the tax incremental finance (TIF) law. Specifically, the Act specifies that the requirement that any real property within a tax increment district (TID) found suitable for industrial sites and zoned for industrial use will remain zoned for industrial use for the life of the TID only applies to an industrial TID. The Act reduced the notice required by a planning commission from a class 2 notice to a class 1 notice with regard to notices relating to a TID amendment. For newly created TIDs, the Act extends a TID’s lifespan and allocation period of positive tax increments by one year if the municipality that creates the TID adopts the project plan for the TID after September 30 and before May 15. The Act extends, from 30 days to 45 days, the maximum review period a Joint Review Board has to approve a municipality’s TID resolution. Finally, theAct excludes any TID value increments from a municipality’s equalized value for purposes of calculating an exemption from a municipality’s levy limit for a year in which a TID terminates.

2015 Wisconsin Act 254 allows a municipality to make any type of amendment to theproject plan of a TID created under § 66.1105, or to request anextension to the TID’s maximum lifespan at any time during the life of the TID, or both, if during the life of a TID, the annual and total amount of tax increments to be generated over the life of the district are adversely impacted by statutory changes to the method of calculating equalized valuation.

2015 Wisconsin Act 255 removes the restriction that property standing vacant may not comprise more than 25% of the area in a TID for TIDs created after March 3, 2016. Additionally, for a TID created on or after March 3, 2016, the Act revises the calculation of the initial tax incremental base of the district to exclude all tax-exempt, city-owned property.

2015 Wisconsin Act 257 amends the process by which the annual reports of TIDs are reviewed, including annual reporting of industry-specific town TIDs and environmental remediation TIDs. Also, the Act repeals the process by which the Department of Revenue (DOR) may be requested to review and make a determination as to whether the money expended, or debt incurred by an industry-specific town TID in the prior year complied with current law.

Wisconsin Retirement System

2015 Wisconsin Act 174 relaxes the barriers to participation for municipalities seeking membership in the Wisconsin Retirement System (“WRS”). The Act allows an employer who elects to be included within the provisions of WRS to elect to be a participating employer only with respect to employees hired on or after the date on which the employer elects to participate in WRS. In addition, the Act permits a municipal employer that elects to be a participating employer on or after March 2, 2016, to choose not to include its public utility employees as WRS participants. Under current law, an employer who elects to participate in the WRS must generally include all of its employees in WRS at the time of election, regardless of occupation or date of hire.


2015 Wisconsin Act 178 establishes a process for certain towns to withdraw from county zoning. The Act provides specific timing and notice requirements for a town to adopt an ordinance withdrawing from coverage of a county zoning ordinance approved under Wis. Stat. § 59.69(5)(c) and from coverage by a county development plan enacted under Wis. Stat. § 59.69(3)(a). The Act also provides that if a county receives notice from a town under this Act, the county board may choose to repeal all of its zoning ordinances upon notice to all towns subject thereto. This Act applies only to towns in counties with a population of at least 485,000, and therefore, effectively applies only to towns located in Dane County as there are no towns within Milwaukee County.

For more specific information regarding the effective dates of these acts and the potential implications for your municipality, contact your Stafford Rosenbaum attorney.

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