The city of Lansing cannot unilaterally withdraw from Leavenworth County Fire District No. 1 by terminating an interlocal agreement.

The city of Lansing cannot unilaterally withdraw from Leavenworth County Fire District No. 1 by terminating an interlocal agreement.

That is according to a ruling issued last week by Leavenworth County District Judge David King.

The judge also ruled that a termination of an interlocal agreement cannot be used to require the apportionment of all of a fire district’s property.

The decision came in a case that concerned a 2003 interlocal agreement that helped establish Fire District No. 1.

The fire district provides fire department services to the city of Lansing and Delaware and High Prairie townships.

The 2003 agreement was signed by representatives of Lansing and the two township as well as a representative of the Leavenworth County Commission and an assistant attorney general for the state of Kansas.

The agreement states “any party may terminate this agreement by providing to the other parties written notice of its intention to terminate the agreement.” The agreement calls for the notice to be provided at least 18 months in advance.

In June 2018, a letter signed by Lansing Mayor Mike Smith and most members of the Lansing City Council was sent to various people involved with Fire District No. 1. The letter was intended to provide notice that the city would terminate its relationship with Fire District No. 1 at the end of 2019.

This later was superseded by another letter from Smith that indicated the city would be terminating the interlocal agreement in June 2020.

Lansing officials have announced plans to start a city fire department. By terminating the agreement, Lansing officials have sought to divide up the fire district’s assets among the parties.

Attorneys for the two townships filed a lawsuit in January in Leavenworth County District Court. The attorneys, who requested a declaratory judgment, argued a termination provision in the interlocal agreement was contrary to state law concerning the disorganization of fire districts.

In his written decision, King wrote that Lansing’s “notice of intent to terminate the Interlocal Agreement clearly shows Lansing intends to do more than just terminate the Interlocal Agreement. It intends to withdraw from the fire district.”

King wrote that “Lansing presumes that all they have to do to withdraw from the Fire District is to give the required notice. Everything else it claims (the right to an apportionment of all of the property of the fire district) follows from this premise. The problem with Lansing’s argument is their premise is false. Lansing cannot unilaterally withdraw from the Fire District.”

According to King’s decision, the authority to disorganize or alter the territory of a fire district is vested with the Board of County Commissioners under state law.

“Inclusion of new land, or exclusion of existing land, in a fire district occurs upon the presentation of a petition by owners of the land sought to be included or excluded from the district,” King wrote.

King wrote that state law makes such a “petition subject to a protest petition and, ultimately to the discretion of the BOCC whether Lansing will be allowed to leave the fire district.”

In addition to the notice to terminate the contract, the city of Lansing has filed a petition with the Leavenworth County Commission. The petition seeks to alter Fire District No. 1 by excluding the city of Lansing. This petition is still pending with the County Commission.

State law also allows county commissioners to delegate their power to appoint members of a fire district’s board of trustees through the use of a joint board.

The 2003 interlocal agreement established a joint board for appointing members to Fire District No. 1’s board of trustees. King wrote in his decision that the agreement establishing the joint board can be terminated. But the judge ruled that an interlocal agreement cannot be used to require the apportionment of all the fire district’s property upon termination.

“Termination of the Interlocal Agreement certainly does not accomplish ‘disorganization’ of the Fire District (as plaintiff Townships claim), nor does it provide the path for Lansing to withdraw from the fire district (as Lansing claims),” King wrote in his decision.

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