Brad Cooper at the Kansas City Star reports on their Transportation Utility Fee: Mission exempts churches from 'driveway tax' :
Mission is giving in a little on an innovative, but heavily criticized way to fund road work.
The city this week agreed to exempt churches and some non-profit groups from a transportation fee that was intended to collect money for roads based on properties that generate the most traffic.
Touted as an alternative way to pay for roads short of raising property taxes, the fee set off a firestorm of complaints last year from critics who labeled it a "driveway tax."
It prompted two churches -- First Baptist Church of Mission and St. Pius X Catholic Church in Mission - to bring a lawsuit to halt the fee. The churches were represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona legal organization that advocates for religious freedom.
The churches accused the city of violating state law by imposing a tax dressed up as a fee. Their lawyer equated the fee to taxing churchgoers.
City Administrator Mike Scanlon said today that the council agreed to exempt the churches if the Alliance Defense Fund dropped the lawsuit. The ordinance approved by the City Council takes effect Oct. 11. Scanlon declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Last year, Mission became the first city in Kansas -- and possibly in the Midwest -- to impose what is called a transportation utility fee on property owners to help pay for roads.
The fee is based on how much traffic each property produces. It shifts the burden for financing roadwork away from single-family homes that may not generate a lot of traffic, to properties such as box stores and government offices, which generate more traffic.
Homeowners will pay $72 a year in fees while the local Target store will pay about $46,000. According to the suit, First Baptist has been assessed $970.77 and St. Pius $1,685.19.
The fee generates about $830,000 a year. The decision to exempt the churches and some non-profits such as charities will cost the city about $70,000, Scanlon said today. Other non-profits, like government buildings, would still have to pay the fee.
The fee is intended to help the city bankroll a 10-year, $30 million plan for improving city roads. The city also plans to ask voters this fall to extend a quarter cent sales tax to contribute to the road plan.
The transportation fee coupled with the sales tax could bring the city about $15 million. Mission will count on other sources, like the state and federal governments, to help pay for the rest of the road plan,"
See our paper: Junge, Jason and David Levinson (2010) Economic and equity effects of transportation utility fees. Presented at 89th Transportation Research Board Conference, January 2010, Washington , DC. Journal of Transport and Land Use (in press).
Disclosure: I did a very very small amount of consulting for Mission KS appearing via Skype at a workshop on this fee about a year ago.