You’ve Got (a lake district notification) Email!
Act 62 Allows Lake District Official Notifications to be Sent by Email
By Wisconsin Lakes staff
Earlier this month, Governor Evers signed SB85 into law, creating 2023 Act 62, which allows lake protection and rehabilitation districts and county boards to use email as a form of official district notices in certain circumstances.
Under Chapter 33 of the Wisconsin Statutes, which governs lake districts, written notice of annual and special meetings must be provided to electors and property owners in the district. In addition, districts must provide notice that the district’s property tax assessment for special assessments or special charges is open for review and a subsequent notice that the final assessment has been made for the year and provide individual notice of the amount of the assessment against the affected parcels.
And, before a district is created, a county board must hold a public hearing on a proposed lake district, and it must provide written notice of the hearing to any landowner within the proposed boundary.
Under Act 62, those different notices can all be sent via email, so long as the recipient has “agreed” to receive such notices via email. The statute does define or qualify what form that agreement should take. This is considered an “opt-in” choice for the owners/electors.
Use of email as a notification tool is a significant departure from what is typically allowed in the statutes for legal notices from government bodies. In fact, we believe this is the first time email is allowed to be used in such a way in Wisconsin.
And while some districts may have already been using email for notifications without realizing it was not allowed under law, for others the change could reduce some costs and make the notification process more efficient and effective. But several things should be kept in mind now that the use of email for official notifications is legal.
- Notification is required for these events or circumstances – which include information about an individual’s property tax bill – because they are important to the recipients. As such, a district should weigh how it can use email to make those notifications more likely to reach their target, not just use email to make the process simpler or more affordable. This does not relieve the district from its obligation to send USPS mail to those who have not opted-in, nor does it relieve the district from its obligation to post annual and special meetings physically, as well as with a class II notification printed in a local publication such as a newspaper.
- Districts might consider formally adopting email as a form of notification and the process with which the district will use email notifications as part of an annual meeting, before using this form of notification.
- As to that process, which is not proscribed by the statute, the “opt-in” agreement for notifications to be received by email and the list it generates should be robustly managed to ensure it is as up to date as possible. For example, a district could require the elector or property owner to register for email on an annual basis. In addition, careful logs should be kept when emails bounce back or show that they cannot be delivered. Email could also be used as a supplemental method of notification, rather than a primary means, so that if a physical address is available both a print and email copy of the notification is provided.
- We think it unlikely that county boards will use email as notification for the public hearing on creation of the district, because a process for affected individuals to opt in would have to be created first. As this is the only instance in which a county board, to our knowledge, could use email for notifications, it seems unlikely that one would go to that length.
SB85 and its Assembly companion AB97 was authored by Rep. Scott Krug (R-Nekossa) and Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point). Wisconsin Lakes initially was neutral, but an amendment by Rep. Krug requiring the opt-in provision for email use dampened our concerns that notifications would be missed and led us to support the bill.
We continue to analyze this new provision to Chapter 33 and will be discussing it further in 2024.