Officials with the City of Neosho and the Neosho Transportation Development District say they will sit down together at a public meeting to try and find common ground prior to an Oct. 29 court hearing.
The meeting, which has yet to be formally scheduled, would be a late hour attempt for the two parties to arrive at an agreeable solution to keep millions of dollars worth of planned traffic improvements in the works. The Oct. 29 hearing before 40th Circuit Court Associate Judge Kevin Selby will presumably decide the future of the TDD. Both sides have now acknowledged that the district was not properly formed in accordance with the law, though they have disagreed about why.
At a special city council meeting Friday morning, held to approve a golf course management contract with Justin Beck, council members talked about meeting publicly with the TDD board members, and possibly state highway officials, to work out a fix.
“The root causes and root problems between the parties should at least try to be addressed prior to letting the judge make a decision on the future of this entity,” said Mayor Richard Davidson at Friday's meeting. “The council has pledged many times our support of this project if done correctly and the many benefits it can provide. There seems to be a lot of spin going on. We've got an entity that in our opinion was not formed correctly, and I think the real question is how do you go about fixing it? I don't believe you fix it by going to a judge. I think it needs to be done over or replaced. But it would be good to extend an invitation [to the TDD officials], and hopefully they will come and we can talk about the issues.”
TDD board of directors chairman Dr. Jim Cummins said by phone Friday that he thought a sit down would be a good idea. He said he and Davidson had already discussed it privately and that he had brought it up to the rest of the TDD board.
“[Davidson] and I talked about this weeks before about trying to figure out a time when we could sit down, put our heads together and jointly resolve some issues, and about trying to figure out what kind of format it would be and what kind of meeting it would be,” Cummins said. “We've had that discussion and hopefully we can see it put together and get it taken care of.”
A date, time and place had not been scheduled as of Saturday evening. Whenever and wherever the meeting is held, however, council members agreed Friday that it would be open to the public.
“I think everybody ought to be involved — that is every citizen we have in this town,” said councilman Tom Workman.
Page 2 of 3 - Mayor Pro Tem Steve Hart agreed.
“These are taxpayer funds being spent, not private funds,” Hart said. “The taxpayers are footing the bill for this TDD and they need to be involved.”
Hart also said he was "tired of the miscommunication" between the city and the TDD.
Councilman Charles Collinsworth said that MoDOT officials should be invited to participate in the discussion, specifically MoDOT's governing board, the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, which is chaired by Neosho businessman Rudy Farber.
“I would like to see the middle man taken out,” Collinsworth said. “Right here in our town is the [MHTC] chairman. Let's eliminate the middle man. Let's get the chairman to this meeting if he is so inclined.”
Some council members wanted to set a date and location and simply invite the TDD board, though it was decided that both parties should be involved in planning when and where the meeting would occur. Cummins said Friday that Davidson called him after the council meeting, and Cummins said he was hopeful that it would be coordinated soon.
The TDD has collected a half-cent sales tax within its borders since Jan. 1 to ultimately pay for about $4.5 million in road improvements along the U.S. Highway 60 corridor, with another $2.4 million supposed to come from the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Given the TDD's legal problems, which city officials believe may dissolve the district, the city has proposed formation of a Community Improvement District to replace the TDD. The CID as proposed would cover most of the traffic improvements planned as part of the TDD, though the traffic safety projects would be prioritized and perhaps expanded. However, TDD officials believe the district's legal issues aren't necessarily life-threatening and can be worked out. TDD officials have also turned down the idea of a CID, believing it is too late in the process to switch course, especially as the TDD is wrapped up in financing and other commitments. They also don't like the fact that the city's proposed CID doesn't include all of the projects that were approved by the voting landowners in the TDD.
Cummins said Friday that he hoped a meeting between the parties would result in finding a win-win.
“Surely we can put our heads together and find a way to accomplish the projects that were approved and funded, and accomplish the projects that the city wants to get done, and come up with something that is amiable to both the city and the statutes of the TDD board that we can present to the judge,” Cummins said. “I'm hopeful that if we went to the judge and said 'the city and the TDD are on the same page, we really want to correct this, can you help us administratively correct it?' that it would be.”
Page 3 of 3 - The city council has pushed for widening Kodiak Road and Waldo Hatler Drive, among other safety improvements to those roads and others, as they say traffic safety around Neosho Middle School is why the TDD was ostensibly planned in the first place, before the Neosho School District declined to provide a cost share. However, those projects weren't among those approved by the landowners, i.e. voters, in the TDD.
“If we can get those projects in with the rest of the projects, everybody wins,” Cummins said. “There is a lot of legal firepower on both sides of this...They all think it can get done, it's just a matter of getting it done on the same page.”