Archive for Thursday, January 25, 2001

City council to drop lawsuit against county

January 25, 2001

In a move it hopes will improve relations with the Johnson County Commission, the DeSoto City Council has dropped a lawsuit it brought against the county.

By a 4-to-1 count last Thursday, the council voted to dismiss a lawsuit that sought to overturn the county commission's decision to deny the city's request to detach part of Johnson County Rural Fire District No. 3. The council agreed to dismiss the litigation with prejudice, which meant the city couldn't refile the lawsuit, City Attorney Patrick Reavey said.

The action ends the city's nearly two-year effort to detach that part of the fire district that is within the city. Most of the disputed territory became part of DeSoto when the county commission approved an annexation in January 1999 that nearly doubled DeSoto's size.

The city's first detachment request filed shortly after the annexation was rejected because of several technical errors. The county commission rejected DeSoto's subsequent detachment request last April.

Councilman Linda Zindler, who made the motion to dismiss the lawsuit, said the council made a rational decision.

"It wasn't going anywhere, and it was at the point where we would have to start spending money," she said.

Councilman Duke Neeland said he hoped the move would improve relations with the Johnson County Commission.

"With a new member of the county commission (Susie Wolf), I just felt we needed to back up and start over," he said.

DeSoto was unlikely to prevail should the suit go to court, Neeland said. The city had to prove the county commission made the wrong decision when it rejected the detachment.

The city's case was weakened because the court would make its ruling based on information available to the county commission at the time of the decision. That prevented the city from introducing new information on fire hydrant flow rates or citing subsequent upgrades to the fire department to bolster its case, he said.

Still, Neeland maintained the city benefited from the suit.

"I got out of it what I wanted," he said. "I didn't want to drop this until the county commission replaced one of the members on the (fire district's) board with someone living in the detachment area. They did that."

The new board member, Kent Dvorak, gives those living in DeSoto a voice on the fire district board, Neeland said. Dvorak would be easier to approach than the long-time fire district board member, Jay Lang, the councilman said.

John Taylor, the only council member to vote against dismissing the lawsuit, said the city was signing away its rights.

Neeland disagreed. The city can still ask the county commission to detach the area within the city, he said.

But, Neeland and Zindler said they hoped the lawsuit's dismissal would allow the city and fire district to discuss their differences and futures more productively. Zindler said she hoped the decision would rekindle discussions about consolidating the two departments.

Neeland said he wouldn't rule out consolidation, but said the city should eventually control its own fire protection.

"I think we should have an open-minded look at everything," he said. "I don't think we'd look at a long-term life for the fire district. My feeling is fire districts are meant to go away."

Dvorak agreed the fire district will disappear as Olathe and DeSoto expand into its territory and chip away at its tax base. Meanwhile, he said, DeSoto and the fire district should reach a transitional agreement that consolidates the two departments under a joint board. An agreement has to assure continued quality fire protection in the area outside of the city, he said.

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