By Roger McKinney
NEOSHO, Mo. —
In a legal victory for the Neosho Transportation Development District, Judge Kevin Selby on Friday ruled that the TDD can continue.
Selby accepted the TDD’s defense using a legal doctrine called laches stet, determining essentially that the city waited too long to challenge the formation of the TDD, and that ending it would be detrimental to the community and taxpayers.
The city had challenged the formation of the TDD, alleging that the district was formed under the wrong statute and that the statute it was formed under allows only residential owners to be voters. The Neosho TDD, along U.S. Highway 60, is a retail area with no residents.
There was discussion among attorneys during the hearing about the possibility of a city appeal. Neosho Councilman Steve Hart said afterward that would be something the City Council would need to discuss and decide.
It was obvious from the beginning of Friday’s hearing that Selby was adversarial to the city’s position.
“The suggestion that the city is making is that the taxpayers are suffering some hardship because the TDD is making improvements to the city,” Selby said. “If everybody would quit filing lawsuits, we could get some improvements done.”
The remark drew chuckles from some members of the TDD board.
City Attorney Steve Hays said every subsequent action of the TDD board could be subject to a taxpayer lawsuit.
“This is going to be in endless litigation from here on out,” Hays said.
Selby said speculating about potential future lawsuits wasn’t an adequate argument to end the TDD. He said ending the TDD would create a clear detriment.
“All of the information that the city relies upon to make (its) argument existed at the time the district was created,” Selby said in his ruling. “The city is now asking the court to undo three years of effort of the district, which the court is unwilling to do.”
Ray Stipp, chairman of the TDD board, said outside the courthouse that the board was pleased with the judge’s ruling.
“These are projects the community will benefit from,” Stipp said. “We hope now the city will join with us, especially to reinstate the cooperative agreement.”
The Neosho City Council recently rescinded its cooperative agreement with the TDD.
Stipp said he understands their have been hard feelings on both sides. He said Neosho has had enough bad publicity over the issue.
“We have no animosity toward anyone on the council, or the mayor,” Stipp said. “Let’s get on with building the projects. It’s time for people to come together.”
TDD board member Steve Roark said the board members represent more than property owners in the district, they also represent the entire community.
Neosho Councilman Steve Hart said he was disappointed in the judge’s decision.
“The judge ruled it’s allowed to continue, whether it’s legal or not,” Hart said of the TDD. “We still don’t have an answer.”
Hart said as elected officials, he and his fellow council members pursued the case to protect taxpayers.
Hart said he didn’t understand how something could keep operating regardless of whether it was formed incorrectly. He said that’s why the City Council rescinded the cooperative agreement, because the city couldn’t be part of something that wasn’t properly formed.
The TDD in January began collecting a half-cent sales tax to raise $4.5 million for transportation projects in the district. The Missouri Department of Transportation pledged another $2.4 million toward the projects, for a total of $7 million.