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EDITORIAL: It’s time to pay attention to the dark store loophole

By Ben Rodgers

Manawa is a quaint city in Waupaca County with roughly 1,300 people who found out the hard way the damage the dark store loophole can do in communities.

Last year, TreeHouse Foods successfully argued in mitigation that the value of a food processing facility should be about $10 million less than the most recent assessment.

Manawa cut a deal and made a $300,000 back payment to TreeHouse, with the burden falling on the residential taxpayers, because the revaluation cost the city $10 million in taxable property value.

“If we had not accepted the deal, at that point the state was going to make us pay back $1.8 million in tax dollars to them,” said Cheryl Hess, city clerk.

Keep in mind, Manawa is a rural community and TreeHouse is the main employer. This hit dipped total taxable value in the city from roughly $90 million to $80 million.

The city had a tough choice, cut one full-time employee from each department, police, public works, library, etc., or make residents cover the cost to keep required services.

Now a $100,000 home in Manawa has an increase of $319 in property taxes to make up the difference. For any family, that is a sizeable chunk of change, small town or not.

This question of either raise taxes, or pass the burden on to taxpayers for essential services is what can, and likely will happen across the state if the loophole is not closed.

If you don’t think this is already happening locally, you are mistaken.

Suamico is currently tied up with Huntington Bank, which is using the dark store strategy.

Howard had to deal with Menards, who wanted a lower property value. De Pere dealt with the Shopko distribution center.

This will continue to happen until the dark store loophole is closed.

Ashwaubenon is a bellwether when it comes to shopping. The danger of higher property taxes, or reduced services, is a real threat looming on the horizon.

Village President Mary Kardoskee has said taxes could increase more than $6 per $1,000 of home value in the village if nothing is done to close the loophole and the village wanted to maintain services.

The Wisconsin League of Municipalities is leading the charge and has put out a call for cities, towns and villages  around the state to contribute funds that will be used to put this issue squarely in front of candidates in the upcoming election.

Ashwaubenon, De Pere, Howard, Suamico, Hobart and Allouez have all answered and made contributions.

The League recently launched its campagin, and more information can be found at darkstoreloopholes.org. I encourage you to visit the site if you are concerned about this issue.

According to people in the know, the legislation has enough support to pass the state Senate, but it would likely find opposition in the Assembly.

With the November general election around the corner and many state seats up for election, find out what candidates think about this loophole.

Tell them it’s important to you, and you don’t want to see your taxes go up.

To an extent this is corporate greed, but it’s also businesses taking advantage of the current tax code to boost their bottom lines, even if that comes at a cost to local taxpayers.

And unless something is done, this will continue and will increase what you pay in property taxes.

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