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Franklin resident sues city, MMSD over sewer tax

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District has $1,160 of Ronald Fratrick’s money, and he says he wants it back.

Fratrick, a Franklin resident, is leading a class-action lawsuit against MMSD and the city of Franklin. He claims he is being taxed illegally so Franklin will not have to pay for the multimillion-dollar Ryan Creek interceptor sewer.

His two properties use a septic system, he said, and he has no intention of connecting to the sewer.

But for MMSD to buy the interceptor sewer, which connects mains under South 124th Street to those under Ryan Road and 60th Street about five miles away, district officials have said they need to tax all properties in Franklin, including those with septic systems.

“I think it’s totally illegal,” Fratrick said.

His lawsuit against Franklin, MMSD and the Milwaukee Sewerage Commission, claiming negligence and intentional or reckless disregard for plaintiffs’ rights, was filed Feb. 6. None of the defendants has responded yet.

Bill Graffin, MMSD’s spokesman, said the district’s attorneys are working on their response to the lawsuit.

“We don’t think the case has any merit,” he said.

He declined to comment further.

So far, Fratrick said, he is the only active plaintiff, but he wants others to sign on, which is why he filed the suit on behalf of all John and Jane Does whose situations mirror his. He said he wants to be removed from the district and reimbursed for the taxes he has paid under protest for two years.

An early organizer of the lawsuit, Basil Ryan, said in 2013 that he had a list of 540 properties with septic systems that had been added to the district. According to a claim Ryan filed with MMSD in 2013, the district collected about $191,600 in disputed taxes the first year the added properties were assessed. Reached Wednesday, Ryan directed all questions to Fratrick’s attorney, Catherine La Fleur.

La Fleur, an attorney with Milwaukee-based La Fleur Law Office SC, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Franklin got a $25.7 million state loan in 2012 to build the sewer. The city also had an agreement with MMSD that the district would reimburse the city for the sewer from 2015 through 2031.

According to the intergovernmental cooperation agreement between Franklin and MMSD, the final purchase price will be determined by Aug. 1 but is expected to include the loan principal and 20 years of interest for an estimated total of $35.3 million.

According to the ICA, as a requirement of MMSD’s buying the interceptor, the district would “undertake all the procedures necessary to consider the inclusion of all lands within Franklin.”

If a property is included in the district, it can be taxed.

But the lawsuit centers on whether the city gave its consent for MMSD’s adding the properties with septic systems.

A memo sent to Franklin City Hall staff members in December 2012, when property owners were beginning to complain, directed employees to say MMSD’s “action was outside the direct control of the City and was not approved by the City.”

MMSD officials, however, have said the ICA constitutes consent.

Jesse Wesolowski, Franklin’s city attorney, said Thursday that the city has turned the lawsuit over to its insurer and declined further comment.

According to the lawsuit, MMSD also has a rule that properties “serviced by a functioning, healthful on-site sewage system” cannot be included in the district.

Fratrick said his wife’s family has lived on the properties on West Oakwood Road since 1895, and the buildings never were connected to the sewer system. He said that in the 1980s, Franklin Mayor Theodore Fadrow objected to MMSD taxing residents who had septic systems.

Fratrick said his properties were removed from the tax rolls then.

“I don’t know why it’s even come up again,” he said.


About Beth Kevit, [email protected]

Beth Kevit is the Milwaukee city beat reporter and also covers real estate. She can be reached at [email protected] or 414-225-1820.

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