Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Drainage District?
Drainage districts are local governmental entities primarily organized to drain lands for agricultural use. Most Wisconsin drainage districts were formed in the early 1900s and established a legal mechanism for managing drains and related facilities to ensure reliable drainage. Drainage districts include and benefit both agricultural and non-agricultural lands. Districts may also extend beyond municipal and county lines. Property owners who benefit from drainage districts pay assessments to cover the cost of constructing, maintaining, and repairing district drains. The Racine County Drainage Board oversees and administers the five drainage districts within Racine County.
The advantage of drainage districts is that they provide for orderly drainage of farm land. Because farm land often has too much water for optimal growing conditions, farmers rely on surface and subsurface drainage systems to remove water from the fields to increase crop yield. These systems also have non-agricultural benefits such as protecting structures built below grade (i.e., basements and septic tanks) from flooding.
Landowners in a drainage district get the benefits of, among others:
- Pooling resources and sharing responsibilities to achieve a common good;
Securing an engineered system that provides reliable drainage;
Supporting an organized framework for effective management of operations; and
Avoiding and resolving landowner conflicts related to water management.
What is the Racine County Board of Drainage Commissioners?
The Racine County Board of Drainage Commissioners is comprised of five individuals, known as commissioners, appointed by the Circuit Court for five (5) year terms. The Drainage Board ensures that the five districts within its jurisdiction comply with state law and standards by:
- Managing district boundaries, including annexing or withdrawing lands
Conducting inspections annually and as necessary
Undertaking drain maintenance and construction projects
Levying assessments and borrowing money for projects
Ensuring that actions of others do not adversely affect drainage rights of individual landowners
Who oversees the Racine County Board of Drainage Commissioners?
County drainage boards are responsible for operating drainage districts in compliance with ch. 88, Stats., and ATCP ch. 48 of the Wisconsin Administrative Regulations. The State of Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection (“DATCP”) monitors the board’s compliance with such laws. Drainage district specifications and construction projects must be approved by DATCP, which at times also provides technical assistance to county drainage boards.
Does the Racine County Board of Drainage Commissioners handle all drainage problems in the county?
The Board handles problems and issues relating to “district drains.”
A drain is defined in Wis. Stat. Chap. 88 as “any device for the drainage of water from land or the protection of land from water, including open ditches, tiles, pipelines, pumps and levees.” Drain is further defined in Wis. Admin. Code Chap. ATCP 48 to include “structures and facilities, such as dams, culverts, pumps, inlet facilities, dikes, dams and levees, that are appurtenant to a drain.”
Not all drains are district drains that are maintained by the drainage district resulting in an assessment on property. Some are private drains, the maintenance of which is the responsibility of the landowner, even if such drains ultimately connect to a district drain.
As to drains that constitute “district drains” (as opposed to private drains), any of the five commissioners may be contacted regarding problems.
When is my assessment payment due?
The assessments are generally payable in annual installments, due by September 1st. Any assessments not paid by November 1st shall be certified to the County Treasurer and thereafter collected by the Treasurer as it does property taxes.
Why is there a lien on my property?
Under Wisconsin law, drainage boards may levy assessments on drainage district members for costs of construction, repair, and maintenance of district drains as well as costs for other legal expenditures, such as legal fees, court costs, or expenses of drainage board members conducting district business.
Pursuant to § 88.40(2), Wis. Stats., until they are paid assessments are a first lien on the property assessed and take priority over all other liens or mortgages except general taxes, regardless of when the other liens attached.
Who do I contact about paying an assessment and obtaining a partial lien satisfaction?
Why are there fees charged for providing assessment pay-off letters and partial lien satisfaction forms and recording fees?
The fees to provide the letters and forms are to cover the administrative expenses and costs incurred by the board associated with the time and resources in preparing these documents. The recording fee is charged by, and paid to, the Register of Deeds as part of its mandated fee structure.
Why do some landowners in Yorkville, Raymond, and Union Grove not pay assessments?
Lands owned by a county, town, village, or city within a drainage district may be assessed benefits and awarded damages, and assessed for costs the same as other lands within the drainage district. However, the RCBDC, as allowed under Wisconsin law, has entered into intergovernmental agreements with the municipalities whereby the municipalities make certain specified payments to the RCBDC in lieu of any assessments that might otherwise have been legally imposed pursuant to ch. 88, Wis. Stats. against properties within the municipalities.
Why must assessments be paid in full when property is sold or refinanced?
Such payment is generally considered a seller’s obligation, per generally-used real estate forms. For example, regarding the purchase of a residence, the form used by brokers is WB-11 "Residential Offer to Purchase." Lines 360 to 362 state as follows:
"SPECIAL ASSESSMENTS/OTHER EXPENSES: Special assessments, if any, levied or for work actually commenced prior to the date of this Offer shall be paid by Seller no later than closing. All other special assessments shall be paid by Buyer."
Additionally, under Wisconsin law, a drainage assessment becomes a lien on property once it is recorded. From the time of recording the order confirming such assessments for costs until they are paid, such assessments and the interest thereon are a first lien upon the lands assessed and take priority over all other liens or mortgages (except liens for general taxes and other certain liens), even if the other liens were filed before the assessment.
When lenders refinance, they will generally insist that the mortgage have a priority position, necessitating payment of the assessment.