Mayor Vetoes Court Fees for Helicopter

By: 13 News
By: 13 News

An increase in Topeka Municipal Court fees to grow the Police Equipment Fund drew Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten's veto pen Wednesday.

City council members approved the ordinance at their meeting Tuesday night. It would increase court fees from $5 to $10, through November 8, 2012.

In his veto message, Bunten said the intent of the measure is clearly to make the money available for lease payments on a second police helicopter. He points out the date the ordinance expires is the same date the last lease payment would be made, under a communication the council approved last month.

The communication has been a source of controversy. The council first approved funding for a second helicopter last June. Bunten vetoed it then and the council failed to override it. Then, in December, Deputy Mayor Brett Blackburn asked for a communication from City Manager Norton Bonaparte to be added to the agenda. The communcation authorized Bonaparte to enter into a lease agreement for the second helicopter. The city attorney's office said a communication was not subject to a mayoral veto. Bunten disagrees and has asked for Shawnee County District Attorney Robert Hecht's opinion on the issue. In the meantime, Bunten has vetoed the communication approval.

In veteoing the Municipal Court fee increase, Bunten said that he believes the lease agreement is vetoed and that, without the lease, there's no need for additional money in the Police Equipment Fund.

While Bunten waits for a ruling on the communication question, the DA's office tells 13 News it expects to make an announcement Thursday regarding whether some topeka city council members violated the Open Meetings Act in getting the communication on the agenda in the first place. At issue is whether phone calls Blackburn made to gain support for the communication were against the law.

I am today vetoing Ordinance No. 19018 which would increase payments to the Police Equipment Fund from fees charged in the Municipal Court. The increase is from five dollars to ten dollars and is to continue through November 8, 2012.

The increased charges are deposited in a Police Equipment Fund and are, according to the ordinance explanation, available for making lease payments on a second helicopter. That is clearly the purpose, and not coincidentally, the increase expires in 2012, the same date the last lease payment on a helicopter would be made.

If not for helicopter payments then there is no justification for additional funds for police equipment. There is $120,000 of confiscated drug monies, $60,000 in the Police Equipment Fund and a $65,000 federal grant just received, all of which can only be spent on police equipment. These amounts are in addition to the $28,000,000 budget of the police department.

Further, if this money is to be used to make lease payments in the out years for a second new helicopter, it is premature. It is my contention that the “communication” used as a vehicle to authorize a lease purchase agreement, and was believed to be not subject to a Mayoral veto, is in fact a resolution, is subject to veto, and was vetoed within the time frame required. The District Attorney has been asked for an opinion on this question and it is pending.

Additionally, KSA 10-1101, et seq requires approval by a majority vote of the governing body of the city for any lease purchase agreement entered into which will exceed the City’s current fiscal year. That being the case, the “Communication” was not approved by the governing body, as required by state law, but by the city council, and therefore there is no authorization for the lease purchase agreement.

If there is no authorization for the purchase of a new helicopter, and the primary reason for the increase in fees is to make payments on a new helicopter, then there is no justification for this ordinance.

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