MTD expansion blocked by court

By Danielle Gaines

An ongoing legal battle between the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District and Champaign resident Scott Tapley changed course Thursday.

In a hearing on a motion for a summary judgment filed by the MTD on Oct. 24, Chase Leonhard, associate judge for Champaign County’s 6th Circuit Court, denied the motion on Thursday. Had the motion for summary judgment passed, MTD could have moved forward with additional annexation.

Tapley and other residents of southwest Champaign argue that the citizens have a fundamental right to hold a referendum, proving that the people of southwest Champaign do not want MTD presence. Tapley is spokesman for the Southwest Mass Transit District Support Committee. The MTD believes approval of the referendum will lead to the creation of a separate district that will conflict with services it already offers.

The ruling now prohibits the MTD from annexing southwest Champaign into its district until a referendum vote is held.

“The court believes that it is imperative that majoritarian democracy be exercised,” Leonhard said.

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The court found that MTD’s previous annexation of part of the disputed land in August was valid, but a referendum is still in order. If a referendum allowing for the creation of a new mass transit district is passed, the annexation would not be nullified.

“It’s a mixed bag because we will still have a presence,” said Bill Volk, managing director of the MTD.

The two transit districts would share a presence in the area, as no statute exists prohibiting the existence of two taxing bodies in one area. Leonhard had previously questioned whether the court had the authority to prevent the creation of taxing body.

Volk said the MTD has not decided on further action at this time. A special meeting of the MTD Board of Directors will be held Monday morning at Illinois Terminal, 45 E. University Ave. At the meeting, the Board is to hear from MTD attorneys and decide how to proceed in the case.

The case was set for a status hearing on March 24, 2006. The referendum for the creation of a new mass transit district will be held on March 21, 2006.

In another annexation dispute, Savoy board members expressed concern that MTD may be backing out of a verbal agreement not to force annexation. MTD favors a bill that would require any separate transit district in an urban area of over 50,000 people to be approved by the regional planning commission. This would mean that Savoy could no longer create a transit district on its own.

Arthur Skelton, Savoy village board member, said the village is predominately against MTD presence.

“Nobody in Savoy wants C-U MTD,” Skelton said. “They have no rights as a non-elected board to tax us without our permission.”

Village Trustee Jan Carter Niccum said the status quo seems to be preferred in Savoy, but that monetary concerns exist.

“They may force our hand into creating our own transit district, but I don’t want to cost the village more money by creating that district,” Niccum said.