The City of Neosho is proposing establishment of a Community Improvement District to essentially replace the Transportation Development District.

The City of Neosho is proposing establishment of a Community Improvement District to essentially replace the Transportation Development District.

Put forward and discussed publicly for the first time at Tuesday's Neosho City Council meeting, the idea of a CID is the city's solution to the legally-troubled TDD, which city officials said would ensure that most of the planned traffic improvements under the TDD still go forward. However, it would also prioritize the separate safety-orientated traffic improvements.

Like the TDD, the CID would rely on a half-cent sales tax to ultimately pay for new stoplight intersections, new roads and road improvements on the southwestern edge of Neosho. Unlike the TDD, the CID board  would likely be appointed by the city council, which city officials say would give the taxpayers a measure of representation. In contrast, the TDD is managed by a board of directors elected by the property owners within the district boundaries.

As proposed, the borders of the CID would roughly match those of the TDD west of State Highway 59, according to city attorney Steve Hays. That would cut out the planned extension of Laramie Lane to U.S. Highway 60 and a new stoplight intersection there. But the rest of the traffic improvements, including the traffic light at U.S. 60 and Kodiak Road, two outer roads on either side of Highway 60, extension of Hale McGinty Drive to the north outer road, improvements to Waldo Hatler Drive and Kodiak Road, and a new stoplight intersection at the connector road between the two outer roads and Highway 60, among other projects, would still happen.

Like the TDD, establishing a CID, according to Hays, would simply require a vote of the property owners within the proposed district, following a petition by those same owners to the Newton County Clerk to hold an election. However, it may only require a detailed petition signed by property owners owning at least half of the assessed value of real property within the district, which would then be presented to the city council.

In any case, Hays said Tuesday that the city would aim for 100 percent agreement among the landowners, and not simply a majority. He also said the entire process of creating a CID should only take 45 to 60 days. That would fit within the Missouri Department of Transportation's timeline to bid out the traffic improvements already planned after the stoplight at U.S. Highway 60 and Kodiak Road, which Associate Circuit Court Judge Kevin Selby has ordered to proceed. However, MoDOT has since gave notice that it would postpone that project until the TDD's legal issues are settled, since the stoplight was part of a larger package of projects involving the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission and the Neosho TDD and which included MoDOT's $2.4 million cost share for the entire TDD project scope. To that, city officials have simply pointed to the court order.

The correct land owners within a future CID have been identified and paperwork prepared, city officials say, though that's as far as it has went until it is decided what will actually happen with the TDD. A scheduled court hearing on Oct. 29 is expected to decide on a petition filed by the city that the TDD was never lawfully organized and that the results of all TDD elections – including creation of its half-cent sales tax – are invalid. The city argues that the subsection of the state statute the Neosho TDD was created under does not provide for the property owners within the district to act as the legally qualified voters of the TDD, as defined by law. That had gone unnoticed in 2010 when the city, acting on request as the local transportation authority, petitioned the court to call for an election to create the district. In the meantime, a recent court order directed all parties to “work together to take such actions to resolve any remaining issues.”

Should the TDD's past elections be invalidated, the TDD would presumably dissolve. However, Hays said the ideal situation would be that a CID be ready to assume that tax revenue with its own half-cent sales tax.

“A new tax would be passed but we would be simultaneously terminating the one and transferring the funds to the CID, if there are no hiccups,” Hays said.

But that would require the cooperation of the yet-existing TDD  board, he said. Hays said that phone calls made to TDD's legal counsel Chris Williams over the last couple of weeks to talk about a CID have not been returned. He said he received an email from Williams that the TDD and MoDOT were working together to resolve the issues, though Hays noted that Judge Selby had directed the TDD and the city be the parties to do so.

“The city believes that we have a very good plan to get this taken care of and salvage both the $2.4 million from MoDOT as well as get the Highway 60/Kodiak Road stoplight in this year,” Hays stated during Tuesday's meeting. “...But as of today we have still not heard back verbally from Chris Williams or any representative of the TDD board endorsing or putting any support whatsoever toward the city's fix to these issues...[MoDOT's attorney] has expressed that it is incumbent upon the city and the TDD to get this resolved. That's hard to do when one party is not talking to the other party.” 

Although the court has ordered the TDD to cease spending tax funds until the legal matters are settled one way or another, the TDD board is still legally in place and able to make some decisions. A closed session TDD board meeting has been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today at the Hale McGinty Development Business Center in Neosho, to discuss legal matters. Reached by phone after Tuesday's city council meeting, TDD board chairman Dr. Jim Cummins indicated that the city's CID proposal would be addressed in today's meeting.

“After the meeting we'll likely have a better idea of where we're headed,” Cummins said. “We should have some information then.”

Hays said the city could go no further with plans for a CID until it had some kind of response from the TDD. At Tuesday's meeting, councilman Steve Hart called the district's silence “sad and interesting” given past statements by TDD officials about working cooperatively with the city.
“With the TDD it has always been 'their way or the highway' as far as this council is concerned,” Hart said. “They have always considered this council hostile to them for whatever reason and this is typical of them taking a stance of 'their way or no way.' A CID would solve the issues, and no communication, no resolve, has been put forth by them.”

Councilman Charles Collinsworth said during Tuesday's meeting that he felt the city's CID proposal had a “little bit of everything,” including economic development, safety improvements, taxpayer accountability and transparency.

“Do you want to put all your eggs into the economic development basket and torpedo the whole deal?” Collinsworth posed. “I don't think so. As far as I'm concerned, the safety improvements don't go as far I would even like them to. But I'd like to see something instead of nothing.”