by Lindsey Peterson
The City of Fremont is budgeting for another year of judicial sparring in the case of its illegal immigration ordinance. Passed and then soon halted last summer, the ordinance aims to punish those renting to and hiring illegal immigrants. Now tied up in U.S. District Court, the city is currently being represented by Kansas Secretary of State and Federation for American Immigration Reform attorney Kris Kobach, who was retained by the City of Fremont late last year after writing the ordinance.
In addition to the $750,000 already set aside in their 2011 budget, Fremont Finance Director Jody Sanders, said they expect to ask for another $375,000 in their 2012 proposal. The additional funding is to create what she called a “war chest” for a possible loss in court.
“We have a reserve available if it goes against us and…if there should be some kind of settlement costs or damages we’d have to pay,” said Sanders. “That’s what this is designed for.” The $1.125 million total estimate is based on recommendations from Kobach and costs paid out in cities like Hazelton, Pa., and Farmer’s Branch, Texas. Both cities have passed Kobach-authored anti-immigration ordinances and face similar court cases.
Lay-offs are suggested for Fremont’s 2012 budget proposal in an effort to help shore up a $700,000 shortfall. Cuts to staffing in the parks, building maintenance and library department are likely. Unlike last year’s budget, which had to raise the overall property tax rate 5.8 mills to cover legal expenses, 2012’s budget proposal may allow the city to roll back that hike. That rollback, said Sanders, will be dependent upon new property valuations.
According to Sanders, $50,000 in legal fees defending the ordinance will have been spent by the end of this year. Contrary to some reports, said Sanders, Kobach is not representing the City of Fremont pro-bono, but rather at a “reduced rate” of $10,000 annually plus other incurred expenses relating to the case. Thus far, $20,000 has been paid out to Kobach establishing “attorney-client privileges,” said Sanders. Another $20,000 went to Omaha-based public relations consulting group Carroll Communications. The remaining $10,000 went to various expenses Sanders said included translators, postage fees and public notices in the local newspaper. A donation-based legal fund set up on the City of Fremont’s website has raised a total of $2,843 to date, according to Sanders. Most of those funds were raised after its initial implementation.