State threatens to shut off Winnebago water

Winnebago Post Office on April 13, 2017 (WLUK/Mike Moon)

TOWN OF WINNEBAGO (WLUK) -- People living in an area town could soon have their water service cut off.

They've relied on the state for sewer and waste, but that could be coming to an end.

The residents live in the unincorporated community of Winnebago, which lies inside the Town of Oshkosh.

At Fish Tales Bait and Tackle Shop in Winnebago, owner Cory VanVonderen got a shock recently.

"Anybody who lived here was pretty much taken by surprise," he told FOX 11 News.

VanVonderen, was one of 24 property owners who got this letter from the state.

"Said that the state was cutting off all our water system," he explained.

That's scheduled to happen August 1st.

The properties are near the state-run Winnebago Mental Health Institute. The state has provided the utilities for about 70 years, because many of the homes used to belong to institute employees.

But the institute currently gets its water from the city of Oshkosh.

"They annexed to the city in 1998 and got city water then," explained Town of Oshkosh Chairman Jim Erdman.

Other town of Oshkosh residents either have their own wells, or live in sanitary districts that buy services from other communities.

"We don't feel that this should be dropped on us. This has been going on for, you know, 70 years or so and suddenly now we're supposed to take on this burden?" VanVonderen told us.

The town of Oshkosh says it's not responsible for the utilities.

"Our town does not have a town utility. We do not supply sewer or water to anybody," Erdman told FOX 11.

While the City of Oshkosh says it can either sell the Winnebago residents water and sewer through a sanitary district, or it can annex the properties, making them part of the city.

"We are the most logical solution, I think, but the question is, are they willing to do what's necessary for them to get utility service from the city?" explained City Manager Mark Rohloff.

Winnebago residents say if they were annexed, they believe their taxes would go up.

Either way they would be charged 20 to 30 thousand dollars per property to upgrade the utility infrastructure at a total cost for about a million dollars.

"The state needs to come in with some funding here," said Erdman.

The state claims it has no responsibility, even though residents like VandVonderen tells us they've paid maintenance fees to the state for years.

The town has hired a lawyer to try to find a solution, but VanVonderen says they're being left in a lurch.

"Nobody has an extra $20,000 that they just couldn't figure out what to do with up til now. So it would definitely be difficult for everybody," he said.

We reached out to the Department of Health Service, which runs the WInnebago Mental Health Institute.

It declined to comment for the story.

But did provide FOX 11 with five letters, some dating back to the 90's, asking the town and city of Oshkosh to find a solution.

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