Commissioners approve fire district letter

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

Leavenworth county commissioners voted Wednesday to send notification of their intent to assume control over Leavenworth County Fire District No. 1 at the end of June.

Commissioners voted anonymously to have their chairman sign a letter indicating they believe control of the fire district will shift to the commission at the end of the month.

The letter will be sent to officials with the city of Lansing, Delaware Township, High Prairie Township and the fire district’s Board of Trustees.

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

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 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 the 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 have filed an appeal.

County commissioners discussed sending the letter when they met last week and asked to have the document prepared for their review. They discussed a draft of the letter Wednesday before voting to approve it.

Senior County Counselor David Van Parys said commissioners believe the interlocal agreement will expire June 30 based on the earlier declaration by the city of Lansing. And this means control and responsibility of the fire district will shift to the county commissioners.

He said this will occur absent any new interlocal agreement.

“The letter sets out that that is your understanding,” Van Parys said.

Van Parys said the letter requests the cooperation of the other parties during the transition period.

“I anticipate that it will be necessary for county staff to evaluate the operation (of Fire District No. 1),” Van Parys said.

The senior county counselor said he believes the fire district operates quite well. But it will be up to commissioners to determine if any changes need to be made.

Van Parys said the letter indicates details will follow regarding commissioners’ assumption of control of the fire district.

Van Parys said he believes commissioners are required to use a Board of Trustees to oversee the fire district.

He said commissioners can decide whether to leave the existing board in place or appoint a new one.

He said commissioners also would have the option of keeping the existing board in place for an interim period as the transition is being worked out.

Commissioner Vicky Kaaz suggested having a work session to discuss issues related to the transition.

Kaaz participated in the meeting by telephone.

“We can definitely put it on the schedule for next week,” County Administrator Mark Loughry said.

Commissioner Chad Schimke suggested engaging members of the fire district’s Board of Trustees to find out if they have any concerns. Schimke suggested other stakeholders also could be asked about concerns they may have about the board.

Van Parys said he would add language to the letter inviting comments from the stakeholders.

He said commissioners have been open to input in the past.

“But that can be made explicit in the letter,” he said.

Van Parys also said he does not believe commissioners have closed the door on a new interlocal agreement between the parties. But nothing has been presented to the commissioners.

“No. I’m hopeful there will be a new interlocal agreement,” Commission Chairman Doug Smith said.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR

In other business

The Leavenworth County Commission:

• Approved a resolution to make changes to the planning and zoning fee schedule.

• Took no action regarding a funding request from the Leavenworth County Historical Society. Commissioners previously decided to delay taking action on funding requests for local museums and historical societies until they have a better understanding of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

• Visited with U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins by phone.

The conversation focused largely on matters related to funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.