Florence water issues still back-and-forth

Almost 30 people attended the special meeting Friday, Aug. 3, in the Florence council chambers. Brad Stout, with Adam & Jones Law Firm, seared in the back row (fourth from the left) will serve as the DeForest family’s condemnation lawyer, if the city votes for eminent domain on Aug. 20. Patty Decker/Free PressThe Florence City Council almost made its first big blunder in its quest for eminent domain during a special meeting at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3.

Almost 30 people attended the Friday night special meeting to include members of the DeForest family, and their attorney, Brad Stout, with the firm of Adams & Jones in Wichita, who was there to represent the family’s interests.

According to state statute, Stout said no ordinance could be adopted until a survey of the land was filed with the city clerk.

“We were calling and bothering the city clerk every 30 minutes, all day long,” Stout said, “and I was here to see (the council) make mistake number one (in its goal of eminent domain).”

Looking at council member Trayce Warner, Stout said, “Nice catch.”

It was after Warner questioned Mayor Bob Gayle about where the survey came from, when it was done and was the survey filed with the city clerk, that she insisted the council would be violating the statute.

Warner said: “This meeting has no further business because, according to state statute (26-201), the survey must be completed and filed with the city clerk before an ordinance can move forward with eminent domain.”

Gayle said he checked with the city attorney, Randy Pankratz, with the Newton firm of Adrian & Pankratz, a water rights attorney and the Kansas League of Municipalities.

Ordinance number 8-30, Gayle said, provides for the acquisition by eminent domain of certain private property, easements and right-of-way and other infrastructures for the purpose of acquiring real property for the use of the water rights owned by the city of Florence.

The ordinance continued, he said, that the designated lands were required for the purposes stated and directed the city attorney to file the petition for acquisition.

According to Gayle, all three entities said the city of Florence could go ahead with the ordinance, and do it before reports were filed in (district) court. In addition, Gayle said he was under the impression that as long as the survey was forthcoming and filed with the city clerk, it was legal.

He also explained the reason for the special meeting was because councilor Matt Williams would be gone for the Aug. 6 meeting, and believed it was important that Williams be in attendance.

Neighbor to neighbor

Stout said he was not at the meeting to offer advice about whether the citizens of Florence should or shouldn’t renew a contract or moving forward with eminent domain, but he did tell the DeForest family this is the first big step in the process.

“And, at some point you (citizens, council) will find yourselves in a position you can’t get out of,” he said.

Stout went on to define what eminent domain is or is not for the benefit of the citizens and the city council.

“Eminent domain, which you probably know, is not the right to take property—it is the right to buy property,” he said. “When you start the process, you don’t control the purchase price. But one thing we, the people in the state of Kansas, won’t allow (is the land price.)”

Stout said the price of the land is set by three independent people who will hear from both sides.

He said he can also understand that it makes sense (to Stout) that the city council is saying they would not like being the people who just put a 10-year Band-Aid on the problem.

“I know (the city’s attorney), and I can assure you, he can draft a contract or we can if the others attorney is tired of doing this,” Stout said. “(The city council) has until Aug. 20 to file surveys with the city clerk before adopting the ordinance.

“We have until Aug. 20 before (the city) sicks their dogs on us, but we will be ready for them.”

While in negotiations, he said, we can be neighbors.

“We can work out a neighborly deal, and the deal (contract) I saw looked neighborly, but there were concerns (according to the council),” he said.

“But when you pass that ordinance, and we go into condemnation, we don’t have the ability to be neighbors anymore. Condemnation is a one-shot deal and the DeForest family will be forced to pursue all just compensation and damages they are entitled,” Stout said.

Regarding the land targeted for eminent domain, Stout said he believes the property is worth more than what people might think.

“We (DeForest family) don’t need to be pushed down that road,” he said. “We can be neighborly until Aug. 20.”

The 99-year water lease which was ratified in 1920 between the city of Florence, and initially another family, was subsequently sold in 1960 to the DeForest family with the lease continuing at $500 annually.

The current lease will expire in May 2019. According to a prior Free Press article, eminent domain was first discussed at the June 4 council meeting as part of its negotiations with the DeForest family as a way to raise the ante. At that time many of the Florence citizens were left wondering why a new contract wasn’t signed, and why “eminent domain” became part of the negotiations.

Introducing a matter for the rest of the members to consider, councilor Matt Williams said, in a motion, he would like to remove all previous offers, and purchase the “city springs” for $40,000, adding $20,000 to that price to make the offer $60,000.

The $60,000 would be for the springs, the roadway and utility easements across that.

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