Wichita late on paying county's jail fees

The city of Wichita is four months behind in paying jail fees to Sedgwick County, but it disputes some of those fees.

The county says the city owes $705,000 for bringing inmates charged with municipal crimes to the county jail. The county has notified the city it will start charging interest on late payments.

City Manager Robert Layton said the city has been auditing the fees it has been billed and is disputing some of the billing, but will pay the undisputed amount within the next couple of weeks.

"We haven't been as proactive as we should have been," he said.

City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf said he couldn't say exactly what percentage of the jail fees the city is disputing. But he said it is "a large share" of them.

Layton also said any delinquency fees charged by the county would be "punitive and unfair and doesn't benefit the taxpayers at all."

The county began charging a $2.09 hourly fee in 2008 to cities that brought inmates to the jail on municipal charges.

Wichita and some others resisted paying those fees, and the county went to court.

The city and county agreed in November that the city would pay most of what it owed — more than $10.2 million — at a rate of 37 percent, using property it would deed to the county.

The city transferred land near Furley to the county, and had a credit of $860,000 after paying the back fees through December.

By March, though, the county said the city owed $268,466. And it has charged the city $435,000 in jail fees for the last two months. The county also added an interest payment of $1,636.79 on the most recent bill.

County Commission Chairman Dave Unruh said the fee system has worked for all cities in the county except Wichita.

"It's unusual they have questions about the legitimacy of the charges," he said. "If they have them, let's bring them forward and get them settled."

Layton said the city's audit of jail bills examines when inmates were booked and released, as well as whether their charges were strictly municipal.

He said the city thinks it's fair to pay the undisputed portion as soon as possible and then send disputed bills to the county to see if they have merit.

"We want to make sure going forward we have a fair approach that doesn't penalize us but, at the same time, gets the county paid in a timely manner," he said.

The city agreed to give the county two other properties, but those transfers haven't been made yet.

The city will give the county the work release center building and land at 701 W. Harry, valued at $750,000, and the building and land where the county's Health Department is located at 1900 E. Ninth St., which the county will lease from the city for $1 a year for 10 years. The lease and property together are valued at about $2.5 million.

Unruh said county staff wants to press the issue with the city as much as it can.

But, he said, "it seems like good partners would want to work together to get it resolved."