Neosho Mayor Richard Davidson wants to make one thing clear: the city council isn't against economic development.
However, the mayor told about 30 people gathered for a town hall-style meeting Tuesday at the Neosho Municipal Golf Course, the city wants economic development to be done according to the law. Therefore, he said, the city was right in its pursuit of an appeal to the court ruling concerning the transportation development district.
Last November, Newton County Division III Associate Circuit Judge Kevin Selby ruled the city waited too long to challenge the formation of the district. This ruling allowed the collection of a half-cent sales tax by businesses in the district to partially fund $6.9 million in transportation projects. The Missouri Department of Transportation will fund $2.4 million, with the TDD picking up the rest of the tab with proceeds from the sales tax.
However, Davidson said, the appeal was filed less than six months into the formation of the district, before any projects had begun.
The city is contesting the district under a subsection of a state law under which the district was founded. Under the subsection, only residents who live within the TDD boundaries can vote to form a district. The mayor stressed there are no residents in the district, therefore, the ballot forming the district was invalid.
The city contends when a MoDOT rep cast a ballot in an officer election a few years ago, it did so wrongly, as only residents of the district can vote. It was during research into why MoDOT cannot vote that attorneys discovered the TDD had been filed under a subsection of the law that allowed residents of the proposed district to vote on the issue and not property owners.
"We think it's wrong to impose a tax if you are not authorized to impose that tax," Davidson said. "The argument of the TDD was you waited too long to bring this up. It was brought up five to six months into a 20-year TDD plan.
"We're not saying that we don't like the TDD, but good things need to be done right and don't tell me five months into a 20-year TDD is waiting too long. No projects had been started. We can only do what the legislature says. This is not about not liking them. It's about doing what the law says."
The appeal hasn't garnered the support of the entire council, as mayor pro tem Steve Hart has repeatedly publicly questioned the appeal, stating that he had not had the opportunity to vote one way or another on the appeal, and that as a councilman he had not had any say in authorizing the amount of spending going toward the appeal. This led to another council member's asking Hart if he had ever heard of consensus.
Page 2 of 2 - As is common with legal issues, the city's legal battle with the TDD has been regularly handled in closed session. Whether or not there was an initial vote or consensus decision to move forward with an appeal is not apparent, as closed session discussions regarding the TDD have not been made public yet.
Since March, Hart said, the city's legal fees have totaled $68,538.
But, Davidson told those at Tuesday's town hall meeting, you cannot place a value on doing what's right.
"I'm not going to let $10,000, $15,000, $50,000 or $75,000 stand between me and right and wrong," the mayor said. "Right and wrong does not have a value!"
In August, Hart moved that the appeal be dropped. The issue failed by a vote of 2-3, with Hart and council member and former mayor David Ruth casting to quit the legal issue.
The first of the TDD projects, a traffic light at Kodiak Road and Highway 60, was completed this year, however the rest of the projects have been put on hold pending the outcome of the legal battle between the city and the TDD.