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EDITORIAL: Dark store tactic could result in dark days

By Ben Rodgers
Staff Writer

Anytime municipal leaders come together it’s probably best to pay attention to what they have to say.

On Dec. 11 at the Ashwaubenon Community Center leaders from the greater Green Bay area as well as from some in the Fox Valley addressed a growing problem, the dark store strategy.

It goes like this, a big box retailer uses legal experts to get the assessed property value lowered.

They argue for a lower value compared to that a similar building, but one that is abandoned.

Almost always this results in legal mediation with back and forths about the assessed property value, which creates stacks of legal bills.

Municipalities usually stop at some point, mostly due to the pricey legal bills, and they end up with a lower property value which is oftentimes retroactive.

Then the municipality is tasked with paying refunds back to the retailers for the previous years the value was lowered, not to mention the lack of revenue moving forward.

That’s the long, but here’s the short: That money needs to be made up somewhere, and that’s in the taxes of homeowners.

Homeowners in Ashwaubenon, Howard and Suamico could see a substantial increase on their property tax statements if this doesn’t stop.

I used to cover the small town of Manawa, which faced this exact same thing.

A food company received benefits in a TIF and then had their building revalued similar to that of an abandoned poultry facility in Iowa.

The city could have kept fighting and taken the case to higher courts, but if you know anything about local governments, their budgets rarely leave room for expensive, unexpected legal battles.

The city agreed on a reduced value of roughly $10 million, which dipped the small town’s entire property value significantly, more than 10 percent.

This resulted in the city, the school district, the county and the technical college all paying back a combined $300,000. For a city of 1,300 people that’s a significant hit to the pocketbook.

The city avoided having to cut back on snow removal or police patrols by taking out a loan for more than $230,000.

Now you are probably asking who would support this dark store tactic?

Big business argues the original assessments are unfair, and that unless this strategy continues prices for goods we all buy will increase.

Big business claims it needs these tax breaks in order to stay competitive and keep a workforce in Wisconsin.

It also claims municipal governments are greedy and have too many services.

After Winter Storm Abigail dumped 6 inches of snow recently I am glad we had quick snow removal and a speedy response by law enforcement to the plethora of accidents that ensued.

In Ashwaubenon if these tactics aren’t stopped homeowners could expect to see an increase of $6 per $1,000 of home value, which is an extra $900 in taxes for a home valued at $150,000, that needs to be made up, in order to keep those services big business is against, like snow removal, and law enforcement.

The dark store tactic could end up resulting in dark days for anyone who relies on services provided by municipal governments.

But there is hope. There are two bills currently waiting to be scheduled for a vote this legislative session, SB 291 and SB 292, that would close this loophole.

Proponents are optimistic those will pass when they come to the floor. Now it’s up to us to get them there.

It never used to be this way, but in order to keep your taxes low, you need to contact your elected officials at the state level and urge them to get SB 2901 and SB 292 scheduled for a vote this session.

Rep. David Steffen co-authored one of those bills and co-sponsored the other. So we know he supports them. Kudos Rep. Steffen for tackling this problem head on.

But one person does not mean this will get done.

I urge you to take a moment and let your elected officials in Madison know SB 291 and SB 292 need to to be voted on this session.

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