Special Assessment District's Ability to Fund Transit Lessons from Project-Level Analysis


Shishir Mathur

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

economics - finance, economics - profitability, economics - revenue, economics - subsidy, place - north america


special assessment districts (SADs), project cost, revenue, public agencies


This paper reviews four transit projects funded by using special assessment districts (SADs) across the United States. The paper examines the SAD revenue yield and stability and focuses on the actions taken by public agencies to enhance them; this examination results in three important findings. First, SAD revenues are highly stable and can be expected to generate large sums of money. However, as a proportion of project cost, such revenues might fund a small portion of capital-intensive transit projects such as heavy rail. Second, SAD revenues typically do not accrue up front because property owners have the option to pay the fee over time. Therefore, public agencies must rely on other funding sources (usually assessment fee-backed bonds) to address this revenue-expenditure mismatch. Finally, to ensure that assessment revenues do not decline in real dollars when paid over time, public agencies charge property owners interest, usually on the basis of the interest paid to service the assessment-backed bonds. Public agencies can take the following steps to enhance SADs' revenue yield and stability. First, try to capture as large a portion of the property value increase as is politically feasible. Second, use SADs to demonstrate local community support for a transit project, thereby leveraging state and federal funds. Third, minimize the number of properties exempt from paying assessments. Fourth, minimize real estate market risks to SAD revenues by formulating a revenue calculation methodology based on factors other than or in addition to property value, such as a parcel's street frontage and size and a property's building area. In addition, the assessment fee could be a proportion of the property's previously assessed value or a proportion of a fixed property value increment. Fifth, ensure full payment of fees.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.