Mayor reacts to county letter

John Richmeier

While it was not on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting of the Lansing City Council, the mayor was anticipating council members would discuss a letter he received from the County Commission.

The letter, which was signed by Commission Chairman Doug Smith, informed Lansing Mayor Mike Smith that county commissioners do not accept an attempt by the city to withdraw a notice of intent to terminate an interlocal agreement concerning Leavenworth County Fire District No. 1.

Fire District No. 1 provides fire department services to Lansing and Delaware and High Prairie townships.

When the fire district was formed in 2003, Lansing, the two townships and the County Commission entered into an interlocal agreement.

The Lansing City Council voted in December 2018 to provide the required 18 months notice of their intent to terminate the interlocal agreement at the end of this month.

County commissioners believe control of Fire District No. 1 will by law shift to the county once the agreement is terminated.

Last week, Lansing City Council members voted to rescind their termination notice in an effort to leave in place the existing Board of Trustees that oversees the fire district.

On Wednesday, county commissioners voted to send a letter to Lansing to reject the city’s attempt to withdraw the earlier termination notice.

“The purpose of this letter is to notify both you and the city that the (Board of County Commissioners) does not accept the withdrawal of the notice to terminate as being effective,” Doug Smith stated in a letter addressed to the Lansing mayor. “No provision of the Interlocal Agreement provides for the withdrawal of a notice to terminate once issued.”

The letter states the fire district’s Board of Trustees will dissolve when the interlocal agreement is terminated and the County Commission “will assume its statutory role as the governing body for Fire District No. 1” on July 1.

The letter requested Lansing city officials acknowledge the position of the County Commission as being correct. The letter asked the city to respond by 5 p.m. Thursday and threatened possible legal action if city officials do not acknowledge the county’s position.

Members of the Lansing City Council were not scheduled to meet until 7 p.m. Thursday for a work session.

The work session had been scheduled so council members could review budget information for 2021.

Mike Smith said he received the County Commission’s letter Wednesday afternoon.

The Lansing mayor said commissioners should allow the oversight of the fire district to remain with the existing Board of Trustees.

“I think (commissioners) need to back off and let the board function,” he said.

Mike Smith, who is a candidate this year for the County Commission, said county commissioners represent cities as well as the rural areas of Leavenworth County. He said the County Commission and city governments must work better together.

Members of the fire district’s Board of Trustees were appointed by representatives of Lansing and Delaware and High Prairie townships.

Lansing officials have expressed an intent to eventually have a city-operated fire department.

City officials have argued the assets of the fire district should be divided among the parties once the interlocal agreement is terminated. However, this issue is being contested in court.

Last year, attorneys for Delaware and High Prairie townships filed a lawsuit, arguing the termination provision in the 2003 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 have filed an appeal of King’s decision.

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