Lawsuit against City of Houston Dismissed


By Scott Hamilton,
Co-Publisher
  George Sholtz and members of the Texas County Commission joined forces in opposition to a Community Improvement District (CID) that levied a quarter-cent sales tax for completion of a surgery center at Texas County Memorial Hospital. CID’s are established by state statutes and used to improve infrastructure in order to support business growth within the district. CID’s are in place throughout the state, including five in West Plains. The Houston district includes Houston Walmart Supercenter, Do-It Center, Dollar General and Orscheln Farm and Home.
  Circuit Judge William Hickle issued an order Jan. 15 dismissing the lawsuit following arguments heard on Jan. 8 at the Texas County Justice Center. Sholtz appeared before the judge supported by Parke Stevens Jr. of the Texas County Commission and opposed by attorney Brad Eidson, City of Houston and attorney John Hammons, Jr., representing Texas County Memorial Hospital. In the ruling, Judge Hickle sustained a motion by Eidson to dismiss the case and denied all other motions as moot.
  Among the motions that were dismissed were a “Motion to Intervene Pursuant to Rule 52.12,” where Sholtz and Stevens laid claims that the owner of a property in the CID was not included in the application process, which is required by state statute. Texas County is the named owner of the real property on which the hospital resides, and as such, the County has an interest in the property. However, Texas County was not properly represented in the application for the CID. It was requested that the court intervene to stop the formation of the CID in order to protect the interest of Texas County.
  Sholtz and Stevens also petitioned the court for a “Writ of Mandamus, or Alternatively Prohibition,” based on allegations that Heather Sponsler, Municipal Clerk of the City of Houston, failed to perform her ministerial duties and determine the validity of the petition to form a CID. Claims were made that it was her responsibility to review and determine CID petition compliance. Texas County requested that Sponsler perform her duties and validate the application. The petition described in detail the known errors in the application for the CID. First, Texas County has an interest in the parcel of land which is listed inaccurately on the petition as owned by Texas County Memorial Hospital. Second, county tax records list the parcels of land as being assessed at $0.00 and the CID application lists the property value in excess of seven million. Third, Texas County never received notice nor were given the opportunity to sign the CID petition. 
  As it currently stands within the court, the CID will be formed and businesses in the district will be taxed at the quarter cent additional rate of those in the surrounding area. Potentially, the tax rate increase may result in loss of business within the district due to competing businesses outside the district having a lower tax rate, but it is unknown if the formation of the district will truly have a financial impact on the businesses within the district.
  According to Presiding Commissioner Scott Long, the County Commission will be looking into what Judge Hickle’s ruling means for the County.

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