Kansas Town Relents on Church ‘Driveway Tax’

MISSION, Kan. — As part of a settlement of an Alliance Defense Fund lawsuit, the city of Mission voted Wednesday to exempt from its “driveway tax” churches and other entities who are exempt from property taxes under state law. ADF attorneys filed suit against the city on behalf of two churches in December of last year arguing that the city’s Transportation Utility Fee was, in reality, a tax from which churches should have been exempt. The suit sought a judicial determination that churches are exempt from the tax.

The odd tax, similar to ones struck down by supreme courts in two other states, bills property owners based on the number of trips in and out of their driveways. Because the city of Mission labeled the driveway tax a “fee,” it charged churches and other non-profit organizations ordinarily exempt from property taxes under state law.

“No one should be taxing church attendance, but that’s what this tax did: it punished churches based on their attendance. But now the city is doing what it should have done in the first place by exempting all those who are ordinarily exempt from property taxes in Kansas,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “Other governments thinking about attempting an ‘end run’ around property tax exemptions so that the government can make more money should follow Mission’s example here and ensure that they do not cleverly disguise taxes as ‘fees.’ Churches are exempt from taxes for good reasons, and that exemption should be respected.”

In August 2010, the Mission City Council established the Transportation Utility Fee. All property within city limits that has improvements–such as buildings, landscaping, outside storage, or parking lots–were subject to the fee, which functions as an additional property tax. The amount of the tax is calculated by estimating the average number of vehicle trips generated by a property. Churches were assessed 5.8 total estimated weekly vehicle trips per worship facility seat to calculate the tax amount.

The ordinance previously stated that properties considered exempt from property taxes under state law were not exempt from the fee. The new amendment passed by the city council changes that so they are now specifically exempt.

ADF attorneys represent First Baptist Church of Mission and St. Pius X Catholic Church in the suit. The city had assessed the church property and parsonage of First Baptist Church nearly $1,000 and St. Pius X $1,700 for 2011.

The Idaho and Florida supreme courts have ruled that similar driveway-related “fees” in those states are actually taxes and must be treated accordingly.

The lawsuit First Baptist Church of Mission v. City of Mission will be voluntarily dismissed from the District Court of Johnson County, Kansas, once the settlement process is complete.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

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