A Neosho Community Improvement District to possibly replace the Transportation Development District continues to be discussed, if separately, by the parties involved, while millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded traffic improvements hang in the balance.
As reported by the Daily on Wednesday, the Neosho City Council on Tuesday night publicly proposed establishment of a CID as an alternative to the TDD, which is threatened by serious legal problems brought forward by the city. The CID, as proposed, would also rely on a sales tax to pay for most of the traffic improvements now planned as part of the TDD on the southwestern edge of Neosho. The TDD now collects a half-cent sales tax inside its borders.
A CID could be established by the city council as its own political entity, following a detailed petition signed by the property owners encompassed within, though its board members would very likely be appointed by the city council. The CID sales tax to operate the district and pay for new roads, road improvements and traffic lights, would be voted on via mailed ballot by the landholders within the CID, and the vote then certified.
A closed session meeting of the TDD board of directors was held Wednesday afternoon to discuss legal matters. TDD legal counsel Chris Williams could not be reached by phone later that day, but board chairman Dr. Jim Cummins said Wednesday evening that the board was still weighing options. One big question is how any major change in course might affect the Missouri Department of Transportation's $2.4 million cost share for the total $7 million TDD project, which is also wrapped up in other financing.
“We’re trying to figure out what MoDOT can and cannot do if we change entity types,” Cummins said.
However, he also revealed that this is not the first time a CID has been proposed as a possible solution. Cummins said that a few weeks ago the TDD had proposed, via negotiation between the parties’ attorneys, a Newton County-initiated CID, since county land is included in the current TDD, but that the city had turned it down. Cummins added that it was simply an idea at the time, and that the commissioners had yet not been contacted as of then.
“There had been no conversation yet with the county, but we thought that if the city and the TDD could agree to it, we would then take it to the county, and it might be a way to meet the statutory requirements and resolve this issue,” Cummins said. “But the city said no, we want control.”
As proposed, the borders of the city’s CID would roughly match those of the TDD west of State Highway 59, which TDD board members may not be agreeable to as it cuts out the TDD’s plan to extend Laramie Lane to U.S. Highway 60 and create a new stoplight intersection there. TDD board members have said that project is necessary to spur development in that area. A Newton County CID would have matched the current TDD map, Cummins said.
Page 2 of 3 - “Whereas the city is wanting to cut and paste properties,” he said.
Cummins said that another offer made to the city, and turned down, was for the current TDD to be retroactively reformed, if possible, under the correct state statute, which is what is causing the biggest legal problems.
Under state law (RSMo 238.207) there are three ways to create a Transportation Development District: By petition of 50 or more registered voters or all owners of real property within the proposed district, under subsection 1 of RSMo 238.207; by petition of a single local transportation authority, under subsection 2 of RSMo 238.207; or by petition of a local transportation authority supported by joint resolutions of two more more transportation authorities, under subsection 5 of RSMo 238.207.
The Neosho TDD was formed under the second option, subsection 2 of RSMo 238.207, with the City of Neosho acting on request as the local transportation authority. The problem is, another section of the same chapter, RSMo 238.202.2, only defines property owners as the qualified voters under subsections 1 and 5 of RSMO 238.207, and is silent on subsection 2, which the Neosho TDD was established under.
The law had changed in August 2008, two years before the TDD petition was officially filed. Cummins and other TDD officials have privately blamed the city’s attorneys for missing that when the TDD petition first went forward, though city officials have noted there were others working on the TDD back then as well, including MoDOT’s attorneys.
The city has petitioned the 40th Circuit Court to declare null and void all elections of the Neosho TDD, in which the TDD property owners acted as the legitimate voters, including the election organizing the district with court approval, the half-cent sales tax election and the two board of directors elections.
Cummins said that the proposal was made a few weeks ago to the city to try and reform the Neosho TDD under subsection 5 of RSMo 238.207, with the city and the county working together as the two local transportation authorities, which would place it under the current statute. He said that proposal was also refused, along with the one to form a Newton County CID.
“We offered those two suggestions and they were shot down before the attorneys got off the phone,” Cummins said Wednesday. “They would not agree to anything that did not give them complete control.”
Mayor Richard Davidson said during Tuesday’s council meeting that he had already been approached by a citizen and asked why the city want to control the CID. He said there were larger issues involved, one being that if the TDD’s sales tax election is ruled invalid, the TDD cannot continue. He said a CID, which is simpler and more concise by statute than a TDD, would be the tool to ensure the traffic improvements still happen. He said city voters would have at least some indirect say-so, as the CID board would be appointed by the elected city council. Davidson also noted that the city has been the entity pushing prioritization of the safety-specific projects among the scope of proposed traffic improvements, something which would happen under a city CID, he said.
Page 3 of 3 - “Ultimately, it’s a good thing for Neosho,” Davidson said Tuesday. “We have proposed a solution that addresses known traffic safety issues and prioritizes them before economic development, which could take 20 or 30 years to fully benefit from. I think it’s the right plan. I’m hopeful and cautiously optimistic that the TDD group will come to the table and we can go back before the judge and say we have a solution. We have a solution. The question is, are you on board with it?”