The city of Wichita hopes to pay off more than $10 million in jail fees it owes Sedgwick County by giving it land, including property in Furley once planned for a landfill.
Getting the Furley land in the far northeastern part of the county could help the county sell the Kansas Coliseum complex to a developer.
The county began charging cities a $2.09 hourly fee in 2008 to house inmates held only on municipal charges. The idea, the county said, was to get cities to think twice about sending people to a jail struggling with overcrowding.
Several cities refused to pay, including Wichita.
So the county filed a lawsuit against Wichita and four other cities in the county. The others already have settled.
Wichita has racked up more than $10.2 million in fees from Jan. 1, 2008, to the present, the county said Monday.
Under a proposed agreement that Wichita City Council members will discuss today, the county would settle fees incurred before Jan. 1 — $7,006,697 — at 37 percent by giving the county these properties:
* The work release center building and land at 701 W. Harry, valued at $750,000.
* The building and land where the county's Health Department is located at 1900 E. Ninth Street. The city will lease the county the property for $1 a year for a 10-year term with the deed transferring to the county and the city vacating the building at the end of the term. The lease and property together are valued at about $2.5 million.
* Unimproved parcels near Furley in the northeast part of the county that the city bought for a landfill that was never built. The county would use the land as natural habitat for a protected species, the spotted skunk, a move that might allow it to sell property near the Coliseum, currently designated as skunk habitat.
The city would pay off fees it has incurred this year by giving the county more of the Furley land. It would begin paying fees in cash next year.
If council members approve the proposed agreement today, county commissioners likely would vote on it Wednesday.
The deal was brokered by County Manager William Buchanan and City Manager Robert Layton.
County Commissioner Dave Unruh said the settlement would be fair.
"I feel very satisfied and very good about the final settlement," he said. "We wanted something that was fair and equitable and in balance with the other cities.
"I think the end result ends up not being a financial burden on the city of Wichita and it advances some projects that are for the good of the citizens."
Moving the skunk and Wiedemann Park, which currently is home to an RV park, to the Furley land "will accomplish a couple things," Unruh said. "The citizens will eventually have what I think will be a wonderful park up there."
And the county might be able to sell the Coliseum land to a developer for an industrial park or other venture, he said.
If the county had demanded a cash settlement, the city — which has laid off employees and cut some services — would have been hard-pressed to pay.
Unruh said it wasn't in the county's interest to put the city in a position to raise property taxes.
"None of these trades does any harm to the city of Wichita, and we haven't impaired their cash positions," Unruh said. "It shows our willingness to cooperate."
City council member Jim Skelton, who in January will be sworn in as a county commissioner, agreed that the proposed settlement "is a workable deal for both governmental entities."
"I think it's a fair settlement based on what the court had ruled," he said, alluding to a judge's ruling that the county had the right to charge the fees.
Vice Mayor Jeff Longwell said he likes the agreement.
"At least it limits our out of pocket expense," he said.
The property transfers won't hurt city services, and it could be a benefit to everyone if the county develops the Furley site perhaps as a park, Longwell said.
But he said he struggles with the idea of the city covering a large percentage of the jail's administrative expenses without having any say in how efficiently it is run.
"I think there's still unanswered questions that we'll have to work through," he said.
Longwell said he hopes city police will continue to take lawbreakers to jail, despite the impact on the city budget.
"If bad people do bad things, they need to go to jail," he said. "It's as simple as that."
Mayor Carl Brewer said the settlement should help bring the city and county closer together.
"This has been one of those things that has divided us," he said. "Now that's behind us."
Brewer said the city will have to find a way to pay jail fees in the future.
"We don't know how much it's going to take," he said.
But he said the city had set aside money in its 2011 budget to cover some jail fees.