Dispute Continues Over Sedgwick County Jail Fees

By: Stephanie Diffin Email
By: Stephanie Diffin Email

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sedgwick County says Wichita owes it around a million dollars in taxpayer money, and it's prepared to charge interest. The charges are for housing inmates in the county jail. Now, what the county is calling late payments, the city is calling a miscommunication about errors on the bills.

Wichita is the only city in Sedgwick County not yet making the payments. The City Manager says it's because there are errors on the monthly bills it has received since it started receiving them in January.

"We have concerns that there have been mischarges in each of those months," said Wichita City Manager Robert Layton.

So now, the city is trying to figure out how to dispute those charges.

"This is a brand new process in terms of an agreement we had with the county for paying the jail fees," said Layton.

But some county leaders say Wichita has had plenty of time. In 2007, the county first asked for payments. When several cities, including Wichita, refused, the issue went to court. Last year, a judge ruled the county had the right to charge for jail space. So, after a settlement, Wichita was set to start making monthly payments in February.

"I want to continue to be a good partner and have good relations, but I mean a deal's a deal," said Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh.

So the county says it's prepared to charge a 10% interest on the estimated million dollars owed.

"I think we need to be thinking about a way to let them know that we really believe we should be paid," said Unruh.

"I think the discussion of delinquency charges is punitive and doesn't really reflect a good faith effort on either side in order to try to get this rectified," said Layton.

Because while city leaders say communication could have been better, they say late fees on taxpayer dollars aren't the answer.

"I don't think it's really beneficial to either party to start talking about delinquency fees," said Layton.

Layton says the city is prepared to pay the majority of charges on the bills, but figuring out the discrepancies may take some audit work on both sides.

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