More than a year after they reached a settlement with the city of Wichita over jail fees, Sedgwick County leaders say they still are waiting for the city to do what it said it would: hand over land in lieu of cash.
County Manager William Buchanan said Tuesday the county still hasn’t received the title to two parcels of land the city agreed to give the county late last year.
“There’s a reason why I’m losing hair, and there’s a reason why the hair I have is white, and this is one of those reasons,” Buchanan said after Commissioner Karl Peterjohn asked about the land.
Buchanan said the county has been involved in “legal wrangling and bureaucratic bungling” with the city, arguing about access to the land.
City spokesman Van Williams said in an e-mail that “the city has nothing to report on this issue.”
In November 2010, county commissioners signed off on a deal that allowed the city to settle what it owed – more than $10.2 million – at a rate of 37 percent with property it would deed to the county.
The agreement settled a lawsuit the county filed against Wichita after it refused to pay a $2.09 hourly fee that the county began charging in 2008 to cities that brought inmates to the jail on municipal charges. The county also reached settlements with other cities it had sued.
The land swap included:
• The work-release center building and land at 701 W. Harry, valued at the time at $750,000.
• The building and land where the county’s Health Department is located at 1900 E. Ninth St. The city agreed to 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 were 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 has the Furley land now but still doesn’t have title to the other parcels, Buchanan said.
He said the holdup “appears to be legal nitpicking about whether we have access or limited access” to the land, Buchanan told commissioners.
Commission chairman Dave Unruh asked Buchanan if the county could go back to court to force the city to turn over the land.
Buchanan said that was one option.
Unruh asked Buchanan to make it clear to the city that “If we don’t get it settled very soon, we intend to take the next step.”
Commissioner Tim Norton said he hopes the county can avoid going back to court.
“If we can solve it another way, I’d certainly rather do that,” Norton said. “But maybe we’re going to be forced into a corner to take more stringent steps.”
The $2.09 hourly fee the county charges Wichita and other cities hasn’t changed since the county started implementing it. The $2.09 fee is based on 2006 actual jail costs.
The county recently concluded a study that showed the actual cost of housing inmates last year was $2.37 an hour.
Unruh asked Tuesday if the county will start charging the increased fee, but county attorneys have advised that until the county and city resolve the land issue, it would be better to leave the fee as is.