Sedgwick County says motion proves jail fees are legal

A judge recently said he believed Sedgwick County had the right to bill cities for use of its jail, but he said he did not have evidence that it had legally implemented the fee.

In response, the county filed a motion Tuesday in district court to "fill in the record."

The county began billing cities for inmates it sent to jail on municipal charges on Jan. 1, 2008. It did so to try to get cities to think twice about sending people to the jail, which is overcrowded. The $2.09 hourly fee applies only to inmates jailed on municipal charges.

Wichita and several other cities refused to pay, saying the county didn't have the right to charge the fee.

The county filed a motion in district court this week to try to show it had legally implemented the fee.

The city's legal staff is reviewing the motion and did not have a comment about it Wednesday.

The county's motion pointed to the resolution and to its 2008 and 2009 budgets, which included expected receipt of payments from the cities. It also noted that it began sending bills to the cities starting in 2008.

"The county's decision to bill the cities directly was properly approved by resolution," the motion says.

The implementation of the power to impose the fees, the motion says, is demonstrated by the billings, the county's budget and financial plan and the "consistency between the county's accounting practices in 1984 and its accounting practices after 2008." From 1984 through 2007, the county paid for inmates with general mill levy funds.

The city, which the county said owed just more than $7 million as of Jan. 5, disagrees with the county's position.

Gary Rebenstorf, attorney and law director for the city of Wichita, said that the court found that legislation that was first effective in 1985 gave the county two "mutually exclusive options for financing the costs of city prisoners held in the county jail."

The county, he told The Eagle in an e-mail, may either bill cities for those costs or use a countywide mill levy to fund city prisoner costs.

"Use of one method precludes the other," Rebenstorf said. "The City of Wichita is confident that the evidence at trial will show the county continues to use mill levy funds to support jail operations, including the cost of city prisoners, and therefore Sedgwick County has no legal right to collect from cities for those same expenses."

A hearing on the county's motion filed this week will be held March 25.

"We continue to believe we have the right to charge the cities, and we intend to go forward on that basis," county counselor Rich Euson said Wednesday.

He noted that Judge Mark Vining had not filed an order from the Feb. 4 hearing.

"What the judge finally signs off on is the final determination," he said.

Two cities — Goddard and Park City — have settled with the county for back fees and have agreed to start paying the county's charges.

Other cities that had not made any payments as of Jan. 5, and their balances at that time:

* Haysville: $145,419

* Bel Aire: $95,656

* Cheney: $7,268

* Garden Plain: $2,883

* Colwich: $809

Cities that have made payments are Bentley, Clearwater, Derby, Eastborough, Kechi, Maize, Mount Hope, Mulvane and Valley Center.

Two cities had incurred charges of less than $100, and one city charges of less than $200.