County discusses plan for overseeing fire district

John Richmeier
Commissioner Vicky Kaaz, left, speaks to an audience member during a work session of the County Commission on Wednesday at the Leavenworth County Courthouse. Also pictured is Commissioner Chad Schimke and Senior County Counselor David Van Parys.

When they met Wednesday, Leavenworth County commissioners discussed plans for what will happen when Leavenworth County Fire District No. 1 comes under their control at the beginning of July.

While no vote was taken, commissioners seemed to settle on a plan for establishing a governing board to oversee the fire district, which provides fire department services to the city of Lansing and Delaware and High Prairie townships.

Currently, Fire District No. 1 is governed by a five-member Board of Trustees.

The members of the Board of Trustees were appointed by representatives of Lansing and the two townships.

The process for appointing members to the 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. And members of the Lansing City Council previously notified various parties involved in the fire district of their intent to terminate the agreement at the end of June.

Once this happens, control of the fire district will shift to the county commissioners, according to Senior County Counselor David Van Parys.

Commissioners discussed plans for moving forward with the control of the fire district Wednesday afternoon during a work session. The work session followed a regular meeting of the commission that took place earlier in the day.

The work session was attended by representatives of Lansing and the Delaware Township as well as the chairman of the fire district’s Board of Trustees and the district’s interim fire chief.

“It’s really up to you how you proceed,” Van Parys told the commissioners.

He said commissioners could establish a new governing body to provide oversight of the fire district. Those board members would be appointed by the County Commission.

He said budgets prepared by the governing body can be subject to approval by the County Commission.

Van Parys said commissioners have the option of asking the current members of the fire district’s Board of Trustees if they would like to serve on the new governing body.

Lansing City Administrator Tim Vandall, who attended Wednesday’s work session, said Lansing officials are comfortable with the current members of the Board of Trustees.

The existing Board of Trustees is made up of three people from Lansing and one member from each of the two townships.

Commissioner Vicky Kaaz suggested Wednesday that two county commissioners could be added to the new board.

Once the County Commission takes control, the various parties involved in the district can still be invited to work toward developing a new interlocal agreement, Van Parys said.

The 2003 interlocal agreement has been a source of dispute between the parties.

Lansing officials have argued the assets of the fire district should be split up among the parties upon the termination of the agreement. Lansing officials have expressed an intent to start a city-operated fire department.

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.

Van Parys said a brief from the county and townships in reply to the appeal is due to be submitted to the Kansas Court of Appeals later this week. He said it could take six to 18 months before a decision is rendered by the Court of Appeals.

Wednesday afternoon’s work session marked the first time all five of the county commissioners had met in the same room since March.

When they met earlier in the day for a regular meeting, two of the commissioners participated by telephone. This has been their practice in recent months in an effort to limit the potential exposure of commissioners to the coronavirus.

But all five commissioners were at the Leavenworth County Courthouse for the afternoon session.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR

In other business

The Leavenworth County Commission:

• Voted to have staff prepare a resolution to address issues discussed regarding an application for a special use permit for Z&M Twisted Vines Wine & Winery at 24305 Loring Road.

• Approved a new policy regarding the sweeping, or “brooming,” of roads with chip and seal surfaces.

• Discussed two connections to a Sewer District No. 5 lagoon system that are considered illegal.

Commissioners serve as the Board of Directors for the sewer district.

They took no formal action.

County Administrator Mark Loughry said staff members can proceed to deal with the situation.