The city of Wichita has learned its lesson and allotted $3 million in its 2011 budget so it can pay cash next year for jail fees to Sedgwick County.
"The courts made it clear what we needed to do and what our obligation was," City Council member Janet Miller said Tuesday. Sedgwick County District Judge Mark Vining ruled in March that the county had a legal right to charge cities a jail fee.
"We knew we were going to have to budget money for those fees," Miller said.
In the meantime, the City Council agreed Tuesday to a proposal to give the county land to pay for more than $10 million in jail fees it has incurred since Jan. 1, 2008. That's when the county began charging cities a $2.09 hourly rate for inmates held only on municipal charges.
The County Commission is expected to vote today on the proposal.
The deal was brokered by County Manager William Buchanan and City Manager Robert Layton.
"I think it's a reasonable proposal," Mayor Carl Brewer said after the council voted 7-0 to approve the measure. "We're very appreciative of being able to work this out."
He also said "putting this behind us" will help the city and county mend their relationship.
"Any time you're talking about those type of dollars, you're going to create some strained relations," Brewer said. "We're fortunate both entities were able to put those things aside and work together to come to some resolution."
Although taking law-breakers to jail will affect the city budget, the mayor and council members agreed jail has to remain an option.
"If you commit the crime, our officers will take you to jail," Brewer said. "It's as simple as that."
Council member Sue Schlapp said, "We can't take (jail) away as an option, but I do think we have to make sure we're efficient with it."
As for the proposal, the land deal allowed the city to avoid paying cash it doesn't have.
"It would have created somewhat of a financial strain on the city," Brewer said.
Under the proposal, the county would settle fees incurred before Jan. 1 — $7,006,697 — at 37 percent, with the city giving it properties at three different sites. The value of the properties is estimated to be nearly $2.6 million. They are:
* 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 St. 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 that is designated as skunk habitat.
The rest of this year's fees would be paid at 100 percent with similar transfers from the Furley land.
Brewer said shifting property to the county doesn't preclude the city from trying to use it for future economic development.
"If those economic opportunities come before us, just because we don't own the land," he said, "that doesn't mean we can't go in and ask the county, 'Will you contribute toward this economic growth or development?' "