Spradlin v. City of Fulton

Decision Date23 May 1996
Docket NumberNo. 78317,78317
Citation924 S.W.2d 259
PartiesJames Thomas SPRADLIN, Respondent/Cross-Appellant, v. The CITY OF FULTON, Missouri, et al., Appellants/Cross-Respondents.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

James W. Erwin, Rhonda C. Thomas, Jeffrey R. Fink, St. Louis, David Brydon, Sondra B. Morgan, Jefferson City, for Appellants-Respondents.

John L. Patton, Columbia, for Respondent-Appellant.

Mark D. Grimm, Nancy N.C. Lear, St. Louis, for amicus curiae, Missouri Municipal League.

ROBERTSON, Judge.

Article III, section 38(c) of the Missouri Constitution and the Neighborhood Improvement District Act, sections 67.453-67.475, RSMo 1994 and RSMo Supp.1995, permit cities and counties to form neighborhood improvement districts and to issue general obligation bonds to fund improvements in such districts. There are three issues in this case: First, whether a city or county may form a neighborhood improvement district where the land in the district is owned by a single entity and contains neither extant dwellings nor multiple residents; second, whether article VI, section 26(f), requires a city or county issuing bonds pursuant to article III, section 38(c), to provide for the collection of an annual tax on all of the taxable tangible property in the city or county; and third, whether article VI, section 26(b) and article X, section 22(a) of the Missouri Constitution require voter approval before a city or county may issue neighborhood improvement district bonds.

We have jurisdiction. Mo. Const. art. V, § 3. First, the trial court held and this Court holds that under article III, section 38(c), and the Neighborhood Improvement District Act, §§ 67.453-67.475, a city may create a neighborhood improvement district from a single, unoccupied parcel of property. Second, the trial court assumed that article VI, section 26(f), requires the city to provide for a tax on all taxable tangible property in the city when the city issues neighborhood improvement district bonds and held that a city or county may not issue general obligation bonds to fund improvements in a neighborhood improvement district without voter approval as required by article X, section 22(a). We hold that article III, section 38(c), conflicts with and supersedes article VI, section 26(f), and that a city may issue general obligation bonds to fund improvements in a neighborhood improvement district without providing for a city-wide tax on all taxable tangible property. Third, we also hold that a city may not provide for an annual tax against all taxable tangible property within the city to service the debt on neighborhood improvement bonds without voter approval pursuant to article VI, section 26(b) of the Missouri Constitution. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 1

I.
A.

In 1990, the voters approved an amendment to the constitution permitting the general assembly "to authorize cities and counties to create neighborhood improvement districts." Mo. Const. art. III, § 38(c) ("section 38(c)"). The new constitutional language did not define a neighborhood improvement district nor did it establish a limit on the purposes that such a district might serve, leaving to the general assembly its usual task of providing definition and purpose.

In 1991, the general assembly enacted the Neighborhood Improvement District Act (the "Act"). §§ 67.453-67.475, RSMo 1994 and RSMo Supp.1995. The Act permits a city or county to create a "neighborhood improvement district" within its boundaries and to issue general obligation bonds to finance the proposed improvements within the designated district. Mo. Const. art. III, § 38(c). 1; § 67.455. Creation of a neighborhood improvement district requires two-thirds of the landowners of record within the proposed district to petition the city or two-thirds (at some elections, four-sevenths) of the voters residing in the proposed district to approve the creation of a neighborhood improvement district. In addition, the city council must approve the plan. § 38(c). 2; §§ 67.457.2, .3 & .4. Special assessments against the property deemed benefitted by such improvements are used to reimburse the city for payments the city makes on the bonded indebtedness it assumes in funding improvements to the district. § 38(c). 1; § 67.461. The constitution and the Act assume that special assessments against the benefitted property will meet the debt service on the bonds. Neither the Act nor section 38(c) provide for a city-wide vote before general obligation bonds are issued.

The Act also contains several definitions relevant to this case. Section 67.453(6) defines a "neighborhood improvement district" as:

an area of a city or county with defined limits and boundaries which is created by a vote or by petition 2 under sections 67.453 to 67.475 and which is benefitted by an improvement and subject to special assessments against the real property therein for the cost of the improvement.

To "improve" means "to construct ... or to otherwise perform any work which will provide a new public facility...." § 67.453(4), RSMo Supp.1995. An "improvement" includes:

"[A]ny ... improvements which confer a benefit on property within a definable area.... Improvements include, but are not limited to, the following activities: ... (f) To improve parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities; ... (l ) To ... improve any other public facilities or improvements deemed necessary by the governing body of the city...."

§ 67.453(5), RSMo Supp.1995.

B.

Callaway County Golf Partners ("CCGP"), a limited liability company, proposed construction of a public golf course to Fulton's city council. Under the proposal, CCGP agreed to purchase land, to improve the land with a golf course, to lease the golf course to the City for use as a public recreational facility, and to operate and manage the golf course for the City. The City Council approved the plan and CCGP purchased approximately 268 acres of land. CCGP, as sole owner of the property, then petitioned the City Council to establish 187.87 acres of the land as the Fulton Golf Course Neighborhood Improvement District. As proposed, the 187.87 acre tract would be used exclusively as a golf course. At the time of the CCGP petition, the tract contained no residences or residents.

The City adopted Ordinance 690-95 creating the neighborhood improvement district and authorizing the issuance of $3,110,000 in general obligation bonds to finance the golf course improvements. The City also enacted Ordinance 692-95, which authorized a special assessment against the district property to pay the cost of the bonds and provided that, in the event the special assessment against the district property did not meet the debt service on the bonds, the City could levy an ad valorem tax against all taxable tangible property in the City to meet the shortfall. The ordinances did not provide for voter approval prior to issuance of the bonds nor did they require voter approval for the city to levy the city-wide ad valorem tax.

James Spradlin, a resident taxpayer of the City of Fulton, filed suit claiming, among other things, that a golf course is not a "neighborhood" under the constitution or the Act and that issuance of the bonds without voter approval violates article VI, section 26, and article X, section 22(a) of the Missouri Constitution. The trial court found that the proposed golf course was a "neighborhood" under article III, section 38(c). However, the trial court held that issuance of the bonds without prior voter approval violated article X, section 22(a), and enjoined the City from issuing the bonds until it received the requisite voter approval. Both parties appealed.

II.
A.

We consider Spradlin's appeal first. He argues that the trial court erred in finding that the proposed golf course qualifies as a neighborhood improvement district.

Spradlin's attack is two-pronged. First, he contends that because section 38(c). 2 refers to "electors" and "owners of record" that a neighborhood improvement district requires multiple owners. Without multiple owners, Spradlin contends, there is no "neighborhood;" hence, he claims no neighborhood improvement district can exist.

This argument ignores the rule that "[w]henever, in any statute, words importing the plural number are used in describing or referring to any matter, parties or persons, any single matter, party or person is included...." § 1.030, RSMo 1994. Rules for the interpretation of statutes apply with equal force to the constitution. Rathjen v. Reorganized School Dist. R-11, 284 S.W.2d 516, 523 (Mo. banc 1955). We, therefore, hold that a constitutional provision referring to electors or owners also refers to an elector and a single owner.

Second, Spradlin contends that the word "neighborhood" inherently requires multiple parcels or multiple residents. Stated another way, Spradlin contends there can be no neighborhood without neighbors.

Absent constitutional definition, the meaning of words used in the constitution is the meaning understood by the voters who approve the constitutional provision. Boone County Court v. State, 631 S.W.2d 321, 324 (Mo. banc 1982). That common meaning is found in the dictionary. Id.

As Spradlin argues, it is true that one of the common definitions of "neighborhood" means "a number of persons living near one another or in a particular locality." Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary 957 (1994). But dictionaries generally contain more than one definition of a word because words often have more than one meaning.

"Neighborhood" is a word that has multiple meanings. Webster's Third New International Dictionary 1514 (1976) includes within its definitions of "neighborhood," "an area or region of usu[ally] vague limits that is usu[ally] marked by some fairly distinctive feature of the inhabitants or terrain...." Webster's New Universal Unabridged...

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