Trustee Mike Hoppe speaks Monday, July 9, in favor of the village of Howard contributiing $2,000 to the League of Wisconsin Municipalities for the LWM’s issue advocacy campaign to eliminate the dark store loophole. Kevin Bonekse Photo
By Kevin Boneske
HOWARD – An issue advocacy campaign by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities to eliminate the dark store loophole received financial backing Monday, July 9, by the Howard village board.
In response to a letter from LWM Executive Director Jerry Deschane asking each municipality in the state to consider a minimum contribution of $1,200, board members supported a motion made by Trustee Mike Hoppe to provide $2,000 to the effort.
“I think it’s a very worthy cause,” Hoppe said.
The dark store loophole relates to commercial retailers and manufacturers challenging the assessed value of their properties.
The groups claim properties are worth the same or close to the lower assessed value of similar but empty buildings.
Companies which challenged their assessments in court and won have been able to receive a refund with the affected municipalities having to make up the difference of the lost property tax revenue, such as with homeowners having more of the tax burden.
That was the case with Menards in Howard when the village settled with the retailer instead of going through a prolonged legal battle and additional court costs.
After the effort to eliminate the loophole didn’t pass in the last legislative session that ended this spring, LWM is now seeking to keep the issue in front of candidates running this year for governor and the state legislature with $75,000 of its own money and by asking member communities to also contribute.
“As you know, the dark store and Walgreens loopholes in Wisconsin tax law are slowly but surely shifting the share of property taxes paid by commercial properties onto homeowners, renters, independent businesses and manufacturers,” Deschane said. “We estimate that communities affected by these shifts will see property tax bills for homeowners increase by an average of 8 percent; significantly more in some communities.”
Village Administrator Paul Evert said LWM is planning to have “a more robust advocacy campaign for the two pieces of legislation that we have championed for the last two years…”
“I think what they’re thinking is they really want to push this, try and get it to a point where maybe as early as January they can get it passed,” Evert said.
Evert said opposition to the legislation in the last session came from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.
“They kind of talked about this as a big tax grab, as a way for municipalities to have more money,” Evert said. “And the truth is… the way the levy laws work, we spend the same amount of money. It’s who pays the tax, whether it’s the single-family homeowner over what we think is a fair-market value on these kind of operations.”
Village President Burt McIntyre said it would be in the village’s best interest to continue fighting to eliminate the dark store loophole.
“I think it’s easy to say that, no matter what we spend at this point (on the issue advocacy campaign), the impact of losing this battle is going to be a lot more significant than $1,200, $1,500 or $2,000,” McIntyre said.
Last December, the village of Howard participated in a Dark Store Day the LWM spearheaded to urge people to contact their legislators in favor of ending the loophole.
McIntyre said a lot of communities in Wisconsin don’t have large stores and also don’t have an interest in ending the dark store loophole.
“It’s going to take the League to get these people interested in looking at the benefit to the state of Wisconsin, not so much to their particular area,” he said. “That, to me, is the emphasis that has to be put on this.”