Wichita City Council may revise ordinances to reduce jail fees

Proposals that would remove mandatory minimum jail sentences for some municipal violations — cutting back on the jail fees the city pays the county — will be considered by the Wichita City Council on Tuesday.

The four ordinances would bring city criminal codes into line with the state code.

The changes should reduce jail overcrowding and provide municipal court judges some flexibility in sentencing repeat offenders.

“It just makes changes that make our penalties consistent with the state statutes, which would allow a judge to impose jail time if desired but don’t require a judge to do so,” said Sharon Dickgrafe, chief deputy city attorney.

Four sections of the city code would be amended, according to city documents: code interpretation, intoxicating liquor, public safety and animal control.

The changes are extensive, though, taking up about 200 pages in the council’s weekly agenda packet.

City Manager Robert Layton said the city projects $2 million this year in payments to Sedgwick County for jail fees.

City officials had no estimates Friday on the exact financial impact of the code revisions.

Layton and city attorney Gary Rebenstorf said city legal officials routinely monitor legislative action to keep the city in compliance, and weigh options when those bills present unfunded mandates to the city.

“What they do periodically is as state laws are passed, city ordinances have to be either consistent with the state law or more restrictive,” the city manager said. “So, periodically, as laws are passed the law department recommends updates.”

One unfunded mandate is looming now: a legislative effort to tighten penalties against domestic violence offenders. One provision of that would require anyone convicted of domestic violence to attend 24 weeks of training at the offender’s expense.

“It’s a new deal, hugely expensive,” said Dale Goter, the city’s government relations director. “The offender does have to pay for it, but if he drops out or doesn’t pay, he goes to jail. If you force that requirement on municipalities, our jail fee budget would explode.”