The Neosho Transportation Development District's Board of Directors voted to amend their budget and to elect a new chairman in a meeting held Wednesday afternoon.
The board also discussed their hopes of changing the vote of at least one Neosho city councilman, which could give the council enough votes to drop their legal challenge of the TDD.
The TDD board voted to elect member Steve Roark as the new board chairman, after Ray Stipp stepped down from the position during Wednesday's meeting.
Stipp said he will remain on the board, and cited time commitments as the reason for resigning from the chairman position.
The board also voted to amend their budget to reflect the lack of action on construction projects they had planned for, according to consultant Darrell Gross.
Gross said the budget also needed to be amended to reflect additional legal fees that were not anticipated.
"Our legal fees have increased with the continuation of the lawsuit, we've incurred about $75,000 more dollars, we're estimating by the end of the year," Gross said.
Gross said the TDD had originally budgeted for $25,000 in legal fees for this budget year.
He said the TDD's attorneys are currently finishing up their response to the appellate brief filed last month by attorneys representing the City of Neosho.
Newton County Judge Kevin Selby ruled in favor of the TDD in the city's legal challenge of that entity last November, and pointed to the doctrine of laches in his ruling, meaning the city had waited too long to bring the complaint forward.
The city began the appeal process in January, and all remaining TDD projects have been stalled pending the outcome of that legal challenge.
In an Aug. 20 city council meeting, council members Steve Hart and David Ruth voted in favor of dropping the city's appeal of Selby's ruling, however, the vote was 2-3, with members Tom Workman, Charles Collinsworth and Mayor Richard Davidson voting to continue with the appeal.
On Wednesday, Roark expressed his frustration with the ongoing legal disagreement, and noted the amount of money leaving the Neosho community going to attorneys in Kansas City, Springfield and St. Louis.
"We don't ever get that back, if we lose, no one's ever going to refund our money, if the city loses, you're not going to get your money refunded," Roark said. "It's just frustrating and yet we sit here with this need for economic development, we have these projects out there lined out, we have Joplin going like a bat out of you know what leaving us in the dust while we sit here and argue."
Board member Gene Schwartz applauded Hart and Ruth's attempt at dropping the appeal.
"I think maybe we can get another councilman or two to come to those terms and put this thing to bed and bury it," Schwartz said. "Hopefully, we got two, we need one more."
Page 2 of 3 - In a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon, Davidson said his position has not changed.
"The primary concern was we do not believe the TDD was properly formed," Davidson said. "The statute lists the voters who are to approve a tax within a TDD, we don't believe that happened. We also have concerns that a taxpayer lawsuit could dissolve the TDD in the future and leave the city exposed to future maintenance costs on those roads that are today paid for by the TDD tax. We had a concern that if a taxpayer lawsuit were brought forward, that the city could have exposure in that lawsuit."
Gross noted in Wednesday's meeting that earlier media reports had indicated that the city council was concerned with a potential taxpayer lawsuit, and he and Schwartz questioned the accuracy of that report, as they did not believe the city would be open to any future taxpayer lawsuit.
"The city wouldn't be held liable in a lawsuit, there's no way they'd have any grounds to sue the city," Gross said.
"The only exposure I understand that the city has, is our agreement to pay them $18,000 a year for maintenance of those streets, brand new, built to MoDOT standards streets," Roark said. "Now what kind of maintenance are they going to require for years?"
However, Davidson said in the afternoon telephone interview that a potential taxpayer lawsuit has been and remains a concern for the city.
"The city attorney has expressed concerns that because the City of Neosho was a sponsoring entity of the TDD, that there was a potential risk to us if a taxpayer lawsuit is brought forward," Davidson said. "It would not be correct to say the city is not concerned about that. There may be a couple of council members who now believe that it's not something to be concerned with, but the majority of the council has voted not to drop the appeal. The majority of the council has expressed those concerns, and those concerns remain the same today as they were a year ago."
Roark pointed to the potential sales tax revenue that could be generated by the businesses that would be attracted to the area if the project moved forward, and noted that it would be "way more" than the $18,000 in street repair payments.
"What if we just got one more QuikTrip out there?" Roark asked. "If they build two more intersections out there, you know there's going to be another QuikTrip located. We know there's one fast food restaurant that's already talked about going out there. Are the rest going to stay back here in Neosho and not move out there to the new interstate? Of course not."
Schwartz asked that Roark deliver that message to local civic groups.
Roark said he would be happy to go before local groups to speak on behalf of the TDD, however, he said he believes council members also need to be addressed.
Page 3 of 3 - "I sometimes wonder whether or not it's the general public that we need to convince or it's just one of three council members that we need to convince," Roark said. "If it's one of three council members to get that vote up to where they could just drop the appeal, then you know, my sense is we and the friends that we have here in town need to encourage them to go by and talk to those individual council members."
Following that discussion, the board voted to go into executive session to discuss legal issues. Roark said there would be further discussion about matters relating to the city in the closed session.
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Hear a full audio recording of Wednesday's TDD meeting at www.neoshodailynews.com.