To the editor:
I would like to respond to Janette Labbee-Holdaman’s letter of Feb. 23 in the Leavenworth Times. I, too, was at this meeting, and from my view, I was glad that someone had finally got the good sense to hold an open public meeting to help notify the taxpayers of the fire district about what is going on. I had called for this to happen back when I was still fire chief but for several reasons, it did not happen.
Let me first start by saying that I have been retired and out of the loop for almost five months now, so I do not know the ins and outs of why this meeting was held, when it was decided upon or what is going on behind the scenes. I do know that since this all started last June that the townships are the only entities that have held open public forums to discuss the issues. The city started having their secret meetings – excuse me, committee meetings – the city doesn’t like the term secret meeting. But if you have a meeting behind closed doors, with no published agenda, no public attendance, no public input and no minutes, it sounds like a secret meeting to me.
Anyway, the city council’s original statement back then was the reason for getting out of the fire district was that they were not getting any information from the fire board and that the mill levy was too high. If I remember correctly, they said that they had asked one of the board members for some information and that he had failed to give it to them. It’s a shame that there was no other way to obtain information about the fire district, like attending any of the open public meetings, watching the videos of the meetings or looking over the minutes that were given to them every month. Or how about asking the other two board members for this info? Heck, I even met with a member of this committee for 10 years every Thursday morning, and was never asked, not even once, “Rick, what about this or what are you doing about that?” It’s really too bad that there was no information available to them.
Their second reason for wanting to leave the district was the mill levy, stating something like it went up 84 percent. Wrong, it went up 100 percent from when we started in 2004 to today. We started with nothing for a budget. Trucks cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, turnout gear to protect the firefighters costs in the thousands, and that is not to mention the other equipment on the trucks for each and every call. Their claim is that they can do it cheaper, but yet at several meetings the city administrator has stated that their intention is to keep everything the same as it is today, even the mill levy. So, I guess it comes down to this, if the city wants to divorce itself from the fire district, then so be it. But I ask the city council to be honest with the citizens and taxpayers as to the real reason. It’s not for lack of information and not for a smaller mill levy. Be honest and tell us what is the real reason. What is the plan if the townships don’t go along with your plan? What services will you cut or how much more will our taxes go up? We started this district in 2003 with talks going on long before that. I was fire chief then and Delaware Township had the fire department. We levied a tax to Delaware and charged a fee for service to Lansing and High Prairie. Neither of those entities liked being charged a fee with no say on how the funds were spent, and now the council wants to impose that very same rule that they didn’t like on the townships. So we got all of the entities together and came up with a very workable solution. All entities were represented, and all residents were taxed. It is important to note that none of the political entities are taxed – residents and businesses pay the bill. There are approximately 105 fire districts in the state of Kansas, so this is not a new idea. It works very well to provide the best possible service at the best possible cost. One of the city council’s concerns is that non-elected people are levying taxes. Again, this system works all over the state, but if that’s the big issue, change the interlocal agreement so that all of the board members are elected. That’s what we did when we formed Lan-Del Water Department in 1984 and it is working very well. If it takes a trip to Topeka to meet with the Legislature, I would volunteer to go. I’ve been there before and can work with those folks. I have asked in the past that the city council drop its immediate plans for a divorce so that all of the entities can come together to try and work out an agreement without a gun to the heads of the townships and try to figure this out. I was told by a member of city council that “that won’t happen.” It’s going to break up. That’s no way to negotiate. This is not like buying a dump truck to fix a street. It is the services for people’s lives that we are talking about. It will take you, the citizens of Lansing, to contact your elected representative and tell them what you think. Only you can make a difference.
Editor’s note: Rick Huhn is a candidate for the Lansing City Council.