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Dark Store Day shines light on corporate loophole

By Ben Rodgers
Staff Writer

ASHWAUBENON – Local municipal leaders supported by the Wisconsin League of Municipalities urged people to contact their state representatives on Monday, Dec. 11, Dark Store Day.

Dark Store Day was formed from a growing concern that big box retailers, manufacturing companies and smaller nationally owned chain stores could bring about a large tax shift to homeowners.

“This could possibly be the largest tax shift in state history from one group to another,” said Rep. David Steffen.

He gave the following analogy.

Imagine owning a home worth $280,000. Your neighbor owns a similar house, but through attorneys he can bring the assessed value down to $100,000, meaning a smaller percentage of property tax payments for him, while you are stuck paying the same.

The League of Municipalities is looking for support of SB 291 and SB 292, which will close a loophole that allows for commercial retailers and manufacturers to have their properties valued at or close to the smaller value of similar but empty buildings.

This has created a tax burden that has fallen on homeowners in other communities across the state.

“We have an opportunity, we are on the precipice of rectifying this error that occurred many years ago,” said Steffen, who co-authored one bill and co-sponsored the other.

Mary Kardoskee, Ashwaubenon village president said the current law could spell bad news for homeowners in the village.

“This issue is really big for the village of Ashwaubenon,” Kardoskee said. “We have almost 60 percent of our taxable property considered commercial and manufacturing. In talking with our financial director, he said right now for the village for 2018 we will have a combined tax rate of $19.65 per $1,000 (of home value), that would go up to approximately $25.70, per $1,000.”

She said a tax increase of $6 for homeowners and small business owners may not seem like much, but if the village was unable to make it up they would have to look at a possible decrease in services.

Burt McIntyre, Howard village president said this happened with Menards in Howard. The village settled with the retailer in order to avoid more court costs associated with prolonging the fight.

“We need the legislation to be acted on to stop the games that are being played by lawyers that are pitting national retailers against other taxpayers in order to make a quick buck,” McIntyre said.

Tim Hanna, Appleton mayor and league president said Appleton has already had to issue more than $1 million back to businesses as part of the current law, with the tax burden now shifted to homeowners.

“There’s enough support in the senate and the assembly to pass these bills,” Hanna said. “They’ve been through the process. It’s time.”

The first step for the bills to get passed is having lawmakers in Madison schedule a vote.

“I encourage people to contact their legislators and urge them to get this scheduled for a vote, because we know when they hit the floor of the senate or the assembly they will pass,” Hanna said.

Oshkosh Mayor Steve Cummings pointed out the Oshkosh Police Department has roughly 2,000 calls a year to stores in his community.

“These organizations feel they should be assessed on a vacant building, yet they are demanding an inordinate amount of services from the community. It’s just going to grow and grow and grow.”

Mark Rohloff, Oshkosh city manager said the tactics used by these retailers not only hurt municipalities but the people that support them with tax dollars.

“This is an issue that impacts every single property owner in the state,” Rohloff said. “We need to get that message across to everyone.”

More information on Dark Store Day can be found online at the Wisconsin League of Municipalities website lwm-info.org/1279/Dark-Store-Tax-Loophole, or on Facebook by liking the Wisconsin League of Municipalities.

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