WAUSAU (WAOW) - A state appeals court Tuesday gave the Town of Rib Mountain a victory in its dispute with Marathon County over a plan to create a more uniform system of addresses.
The Wausau-based 3rd District Court of Appeals reversed a judge's ruling that the town must participate in the change, agreeing the county's power to force it pertains only to "rural" roads, not urban or non-rural roads within towns.
Marathon County passed an ordinance in February 2016 mandating the creation of uniform addresses and elimination of duplicate roads.
The change is designed to help law enforcement, delivery services and emergency responders, in essence improving public safety and convenience by giving residents the right emergency response service at the right location.
The county began implementing the changes this spring.
After the Town of Rib Mountain learned it would be required to rename 61 of its 202 roads, it sued the county. Circuit Judge Greg Huber rejected the town's claims in August 2017. The three-judge appeals court overturned that ruling Tuesday.
At issue is the definition of rural.
In sending the dispute back to Huber, the appeals court said the county exceeded its authority by mandating the addressing system in all unincorporated areas of the county "without regard to whether those areas also qualified as rural."
The court said rural is characteristic of "the country," and country encompasses places distinct from urban areas, which have higher concentrations of people or buildings.
The county must demonstrate which portions of Rib Mountain, if any, qualify as rural, the panel said in an 18-page precedent-setting decision.
In its lawsuit, the town contended much of its land around U.S. Highway 51 is a well-developed urban area with residential housing and commercial properties. The law at issue gives the county authority to implement uniform addressing in towns, leaving cities and villages to comply voluntarily.
At the time the new address system was proposed, supporters said Marathon County was one of three Wisconsin counties without one.