By Roger McKinney
NEOSHO, Mo. —
Mayor Richard Davidson on Thursday heard from residents about an idea for a sports complex and about the city’s legal issues with the Neosho Transportation Development District.
The venue was the clubhouse at the Neosho Golf Course, where Davidson and other members of the Neosho City Council held a town hall-style public forum. About 20 residents attended.
The city has put forward an idea for a sports complex on the 74 acres west of the golf course. It was an additional nine-hole golf course until the city closed it.
Davidson said the sports complex idea came from a consultant the city hired to find the best use for the property based on the city’s demographics and services offered.
Resident Dan Yokley later asked Davidson if the consultant had been given any instructions about what to produce. Davidson said he had not, but he was aware the consultant was a “parks and recreation guy.” Davidson also said though the consultant presented the idea, the consultant wouldn’t build it.
In presenting the sports complex idea, Davidson said Morse Park, where city sports fields are now located, is not the best location. He said it is in a flood plain and it’s not easy to find for those unfamiliar with Neosho. He said the city can’t insure any infrastructure it builds in a flood plain.
“Spending more money at Morse Park is not the wisest investment,” Davidson said.
Davidson said there’s more to a city’s growth than economic development. He said a sports complex is a quality-of-life issue.
He said the city isn’t rushing into any decisions. He said there will be a financial impact study, then a cost-estimate would be developed. After that, the city would determine what revenue sources would be available to fund it.
“We’re going to let the numbers tell us if we can do it,” he said.
Councilman Steve Hart said he was a proponent of the idea. He said other area towns have done a lot for their youths in terms of sports fields.
“We’ve never went all-out like some of these other towns have,” he said. “We owe it to them. We have shortchanged them for as long as I’ve been here.”
Among those troubled by the plan was Kristi Cote, who said she would be in favor of a sports complex, were it not going to be located adjacent to her house, as this is. She said it would devalue her property and night games could disturb her family’s activities and sleep.
“Can you buy us out then, since we’ve spent a lot of money on our home?” Cote asked.
Davidson said the city wouldn’t be obligated to do that.
“We would do everything we can to minimize the impact on those homes,” he said.
Councilman David Ruth, who also lives in Cote’s neighborhood, tried to reassure her.
“We’re a long way from this happening” if it ever does, Ruth said. “We’re not going to do anything if the majority of the public is against it.”
Cote said that wasn’t reassuring.
“The drawback is you’re going to have a lot of support,” she said. “They aren’t living there.”
Cote said in general, she feels discouraged after having moved back to Neosho a year ago after several years away. She said there are too many dilapidated houses, streets in disrepair and a lack of restaurants.
“I feel like we’ve gone backward” since she had lived there before, she said.
Davidson acknowledged the city faces challenges, but the council is trying to solve them.
“We’ve got to find a way to get more people here and more disposable income here,” he said.
Residents Eldon Morgan and Bill Crowe pressed the mayor on its legal challenge of the Transportation Development District. The city is continuing to keep its options open regarding a decision to appeal a court ruling against the city that allowed the TDD to continue.
The TDD plans include nearly $7 million worth of transportation projects along a retail area of U.S. Highway 60. A half-cent sales tax is being collected by businesses within the district to pay for the TDD’s $4.5 million share of the cost, while the Missouri Department of Transportation has agreed to pay the remaining $2.4 million.
Except one project that has already started, remaining projects have been put on hold by the state pending resolution of legal challenges. The city and the TDD have spent more than $250,000 combined in the legal fight.
“Judge (Kevin) Selby settled the issue, but you are not satisfied,” Morgan said. “New roads will do more for all of the citizens of Neosho than ballparks.”
Davidson said the judge didn’t settle the issue, which was a flaw in the state law regarding the TDD.
“Judge Selby didn’t answer the question,” Davidson said. “He said ‘you waited too long to ask it.’”
Davidson said if the TDD projects go forward and there were to be a future legal challenge that nullifies the TDD, the city would be responsible for maintenance on the projects, which it can’t afford.
Crowe asked Davidson if he thought the TDD projects would benefit the city.
“The TDD, if it’s done correctly, will be a good thing for Neosho,” Davidson said.
He said the city was trying to ensure that it’s done correctly.
The city of Neosho has been conducting the town hall meetings quarterly as a way to keep city officials in touch with residents.