The Mission Effect

Tidy first-tier suburb Mission made big news this week by passing a Transportation Utility Fee that focuses local taxation on infrastructure impact instead of assessed value.

By assessing fees based on the amount of car trips generated by each parcel — and, hence, the wear and tear on local roads — Mission has fired the first, tangible warning shot that Kansas City’s sprawling days may be numbered. While other cities fiddle with form-based codes, climate protection plans, and a lot of greenwashing, Mission’s new taxation method is binding and very real.

Comparing a McDonald’s (2,700 trips per day) and a single-family home of equal lot size (9.5 trips per day), the one with drive thru service pays much more. Even churches and schools will pay the fee.

The most interesting beneficiary of this new approach will be the Metcalf/Shawnee Mission Parkway bus rapid transit route, currently in planning stages. Mission’s contribution will now be a stable $1.2 million per year, far more reliable than sales or property taxes (both of which are down everywhere, with “down” being “the new normal”).

Connecting Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, existing (Main) and new (Troost) BRT routes, Metcalf BRT will be another thread that stitches together a functional, regional transit system one line at a time.

SmartMoves is actually playing out slowly and without much drama, instead of the typical big splash (or public vote) of a major transit proposal. Overland Park has yet to decide how they will fund their portion of the BRT service.

This move is not the penultimate step towards an urban growth boundary — which is what naysayers of smart growth fear most, yet unlikely to ever occur — but a very practical solution for an aging population and a shrinking tax base in a land-locked city.

Mission officials and residents (whose property tax bills will be lower, as a result) should be commended for their innovation and leadership.


4 Comments so far

  1. Eric Rogers August 22nd, 2010 8:21 am

    Now they just need to go one step further and offer some kind of rebate or credit for people regularly bike, walk, or use transit for transportation. My own household car trips are much less than 9.6 per day, so if I lived in Mission I’d be paying as much as my neighbor who drives everywhere, including 3 blocks to the grocery store.

    And what about the business that embraces transportation choice and encourages employees to arrive bus or bike? If a business could prove that it significantly reduced its car trips generated, is there a mechanism for it to get a reduced TUF?

    TUF seems great for tying funding with usage, but doesn’t seem to do much to encourage less usage.

  2. Kevin August 23rd, 2010 2:14 pm

    Eric- how do you prove you’re biking places?

    I could see a regular transit expense for the bus or rail as proving that well enough but walking and biking would be really hard to prove.

  3. northlander September 8th, 2010 5:18 pm

    Great just what we need another tax. They take the gasoline tax and don’t use it all for the roads, and look what happens.

  4. Joe Medley September 15th, 2010 7:41 am

    If this is managed like a site value tax this might work. In other words, if all commercial lots on the same street taxed the same regardless of economic activity, property owners can lower their tax burden by making their property more productive (in other words, by building their businesses). I’m not sure what it will do if it more directly tracks economic activity.