Archive for Thursday, March 3, 2005

Judge weighing evidence in annexation case

March 3, 2005

— Opposing sides in a court battle over Lansing's annexation of 1,200 acres south of town have had their say; now they await a decision from Leavenworth County District Judge Robert Bednar.

During a hearing Friday, attorney Robert Beall spoke for plaintiffs Herman Visocsky and Mark Strein, representatives for Citizens Against Lansing Annexation. Attorneys David Van Parys defended the Leavenworth County commissioners, who had approved the annexation, and Neil Shortlidge spoke for the city.

City Administrator Mike Smith said the hearing went according to plan.

"The judge has to decide if the Board of County Commissioners followed procedure, and I believe strongly they did," he said.

Smith said he expected Bednar to take up to two weeks to make his decision.

Visocsky said he thought his side's case was made. Nothing has changed since the city's last attempt at annexing the area, he said, calling the city "cash-strapped" and "intoxicated with growth."

He said the city did not have the funding or authority to provide services to the annexed area, a point Beall pointed out in making his case.

Beall told the court that the city had no proposal to add police staff or patrol cars to serve the annexed area. He said that in 2004, the city had a smaller staff in the police department than in 1998 when the city first attempted to annex the land, with three fewer officers, one less clerk and one part-time animal control worker as opposed to a full-time worker.

Smith said Tuesday that numbers Beall presented to the court on the size of Lansing's police force were incorrect. Smith said that in 1998, the department had 10 full-time officers and six reserves, who are unpaid volunteers. In 2004, he said, the city had 14 full-time officers and eight reserves.

Beall said that water, utilities and fire protection were not provided by the city but by independent entities. He also argued that though the city had the infrastructure to extend the sewer lines into the annexed area, it would not pay to do so.

Beall compared the Lansing annexation to a case in Shawnee. He said the cases were alike because both included no plans for additional police force and both incorporated a tax increase of about 36 percent. Shawnee's attempt at annexation was overturned because of the lack of police and other benefits the area would receive.

Van Parys, counsel for the county commissioners, said that the board had considered evidence based on 14 criteria and that, though there may be evidence to support other findings, their findings should not be called into question. He said the ultimate issue in the case was whether services would be provided to the area.

Shortlidge, speaking for the city, refuted Beall's comparison of the Lansing annexation to the Shawnee case, saying that Shawnee's proposed annexation was much larger.

In the realm of police protection, he said that the city would provide equal or greater police protection than the county, which had served the area, and he noted that Lansing Police were usually the first responders in that area. He also said that the city spent more money per square mile on police protection than the county.

Shortlidge continued with other services the city would provide. He said that the city had a wastewater treatment plant, while the county did not, and that the city spent almost $3,000 more per mile per year in road maintenance than did the county.

Shortlidge said that the city would also be able to apply its standards for storm water management and building code enforcement to new growth in the annexed area; he said the county did not have any building code enforcement.

And, he said, Visocsky's and Beall's figure of a 36 percent tax increase included the increase that would be caused should the Lansing school bond pass. Shortlidge said the increase would be closer to 30 percent.

He concluded that the city was in position to provide government services in the most cost-effective manner.

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