Leavenworth County commissioners could move to take control of Leavenworth County Fire District No. 1 this summer.
The issue was discussed when commissioners met Wednesday. They reached a consensus to have administrative staff prepare a letter to express their intent to become the controlling authority of the fire district after June 30.
Commissioners plan to review the letter when they meet next week.
Fire District No. 1 provides services to the city of Lansing and the townships of Delaware and High Prairie.
The district is currently governed by a board made up of members who were appointed by representatives of Lansing and the two townships.
The process of appointing members to the district’s Board of Trustees was established through a 2003 interlocal agreement that was signed by representatives of Lansing, the two townships, the County Commission and an assistant attorney general for Kansas.
The agreement includes a termination clause.
In June 2018, members of the Lansing City Council voted to send notification to various parties involved in Fire District District No. 1 of the city’s intent to withdraw from the district at the end of 2019 using the termination clause of the interlocal agreement. Council members later issued a superseding notice, indicating they planned to terminate the agreement at the end of June of this year.
Lansing officials have expressed an intent to start a city-operated fire department.
Officials with the city have argued the assets of the fire district should be split up among the parties upon the termination of the agreement.
In 2019, attorneys for Delaware and High Prairie townships filed a lawsuit, arguing a termination provision in the agreement is contrary to state law concerning the disorganization of fire districts.
In November, District Judge David King ruled the agreement can be terminated. But the judge ruled an “interlocal agreement cannot be used to require the apportionment of all of the property of a fire district on a party’s termination of the interlocal agreement.”
King also ruled that a city seeking to withdraw from a fire district must do so in accordance with state law.
State law outlines a process in which county commissioners can be petitioned to disorganize a fire district or alter a district’s boundaries.
Attorneys for Lansing filed a motion asking King to alter or amend the judgment.
But King denied the motion in January and reaffirmed his earlier ruling.
Attorneys for Lansing have filed an appeal.
During Wednesday’s County Commission meeting, Commissioner Chad Schimke said there have been discussions involving representatives of the two townships and Lansing.
“At this point in time, it seems clear that no amicable resolution will be met before the current interlocal agreement is set to expire,” he said.
Schimke, whose commission district includes Lansing and Delaware Township, participated in Wednesday’s meeting by phone.
Schimke said a chief and other staff members have resigned from Fire District No. 1.
He said public safety should be of the utmost importance.
“And with not having a clear direction or path forward between the townships and the city of Lansing, I think we’re in a position where we can add stability where it’s been lacking now for some period of time,” he said.
Schimke said the county government has the resources to help provide stability.
“I agree with Commissioner Schimke,” Commissioner Vicky Kaaz said.
Kaaz, whose commission district includes High Prairie Township, also participated in Wednesday’s meeting by telephone.
Senior County Counselor David Van Parys said there does not appear to be an intent on the part of the two townships and city of Lansing to extend the interlocal agreement beyond June 30.
By law, the County Commission would resume control and authority of the fire district after June 30, Van Parys said.
He suggested a letter could be sent to the city and townships expressing the commissioners’ intent to operate the district utilizing the advice of the district’s staff and volunteer firefighters.
County Administrator Mark Loughry said a proposed letter can be brought before commissioners when they meet next week.
“I think that would be a great next step,” Schimke said.
Commission Chairman Doug Smith said there appeared to be a consensus among the five county commissioners to proceed with the preparation of a letter for review next week.