Judge allows Lansing to withdraw termination notice

John Richmeier

A judge has ruled the city of Lansing could withdraw a notice of intention to terminate an interlocal agreement related to Leavenworth County Fire District No. 1.

Leavenworth County District Judge David King’s ruling leaves in place an interlocal agreement between Lansing, the County Commission and the Delaware and High Prairie townships. And an existing Board of Trustees will continue to oversee the fire district.

Leavenworth County commissioners had argued the agreement should have been terminated at the end of June, and with the agreement no longer in place, authority over Fire District No. 1 shifted to the County Commission.

County commissioners had filed a petition for a declaratory judgment regarding the issue. King conducted a final hearing on the matter Wednesday before issuing his ruling.

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

The fire district is governed by a board whose five members were appointed by representatives of Lansing and the two townships.

The process for appointing people to the fire district’s Board of Trustees was established through the 2003 interlocal agreement between the parties.

The interlocal agreement has a provision that allows any of the parties to terminate the agreement by providing a notice of intention at least 18 months in advance.

In December 2018, the Lansing City Council issued a notice of its intent to terminate the agreement at the end of June of this year.

Lansing officials have expressed a desire to establish a city-operated fire department.

At the time of the notice of intention, Lansing officials believed termination of the interlocal agreement would result in the assets of the fire district being split up among the parties.

However, this issue is being disputed in a separate court case. King ruled last year that 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.” The judge 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.

The city of Lansing has appealed King’s decision in this earlier case. This case is still pending with the Kansas Court of Appeals.

In June, members of the Lansing City Council voted to rescind their notice of intention to terminate the agreement.

County commissioners argued the agreement gives a party the power to terminate the contract with proper notification but it does not allow a party to rescind its notice of intention to terminate the contract.

The petition for declaratory judgment was filed on behalf of the commissioners.

“We believe this is a matter of enforcement of the terms of a contract,” Senior County Counselor David Van Parys said during Wednesday’s hearing.

Van Parys represents the County Commission.

Adam Hall, an attorney for Lansing, said Lansing officials had changed their intention. He noted the word “intention” was used in the termination clause of the agreement. He argued an intention is something that can be withdrawn.

Hall called Tim Vandall to testify during the hearing. Vandall is Lansing’s city administrator.

Vandall said if the county took control of Fire District No. 1, “Lansing would have been paying taxpayer dollars to something they had no control over.”

Hall also called Rob Gaslin to testify. Gaslin is chairman of Fire District No. 1’s Board of Trustees.

Gaslin testified that county officials had previously suggested Lansing could rescind its notice of intention to terminate the interlocal agreement.

In making his ruling, King said the agreement is silent on whether a party can withdraw its notice of intention to terminate the agreement. He said the agreement does not state a party cannot withdraw its notice.

King said a party is free to operate in a way that is legal and not prohibited by the contract.

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