To the editor:
Yesterday evening, Feb. 21, I attended the shouting match that was advertised to be an information session “regarding the Lansing City Council’s decision to opt out of the current Leavenworth County Fire District No. 1 agreement.”
The city of Lansing had to adjust its calendar to attend, as the meeting was called at exactly the same time as a city council meeting. Although the stage was full of people, including two fire district board members appointed by the city of Lansing, there was no legal council on the stage to represent the residents of Lansing and inform the public of what had brought us to this point.
How come the largest contributor had no voice at the table? How much taxpayer money has been spent on advertising the event in the Leavenworth Times and mailers to all of the residents of the city of Lansing?
In fact this letter to the editor is a letter of questions that go all the way back to 2003 when then Mayor Ken Bernard and then City Administrator Mike Smith thought this was a good idea. If I remember correctly, the city council members back then were not in favor of the idea and wanted to form their own fire department.
So let’s begin with the following questions. Why would a city, with a then reputable volunteer fire department, sign an interlocal agreement (contract) that they can never get out of? Even the attorney from Delaware Township mentioned that it has questionable clauses in it. What kind of board would the city appoint to the fire district in which the city representatives cannot be fired if they are not acting in the best interests of the city? Why is it a good idea to have non-elected officials raising the city’s mill levy, especially on a contract you can’t get out of and with board members you can’t fire?
The interlocal agreement does have a termination date of June 2020. It also “allows” an opt-out option with an 18-month notice. The city, following these guidelines, had placed the fire district on notice on June 2018 about its desire to withdraw. This is not a withdrawal for cause, it’s just a decision to thank the fire department for the great job they do and have done and incorporate the Lansing fire district portion into the taxing entity of the city. Yes, some crowd members yelled “so they can raise taxes themselves,” but if you are an observer of Lansing city government you will know that Lansing is frugal to a fault and has not raised taxes for the last five years and when they did it was less than one-half of a mill.
Is Delaware Township and High Prairie Township paying for all of these legal fees, advertisements and mailers out of their own pockets, or are Lansing residences paying to sue themselves? Why haven’t the townships worked with the city to find a solution? If they don’t want to partner with the city of Lansing, I’m sure Leavenworth or Fairmount can share the burden. As the fire chief mentioned, he is working hard on interlocal agreements with the Leavenworth County and Wyandotte County fire departments to make sure the department closest to the fire gets there first.
Where is our county commissioner on this issue? It’s been going on for a while. Are they planning to call the entities together and mediate the problem? Everyone was talking about dividing up the assets. What about the liabilities? It is my understanding that there are well more than $650,000 in liabilities that would need to be shared. It is time to sit down and start working toward a solution. We don’t need hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, and as one audience member stated, “We need to grow up and start acting like adults.”