By Kevin Boneske
HOWARD – Attempts have been unsuccessful to mediate a resolution to a dispute dating back to 2017 over the assessed value of the Woodman’s store at 2400 Duck Creek Parkway.
The matter remains pending in Brown County Circuit Court, where attorneys representing Woodman’s alleged a difference of nearly $6.5 million between what the store was assessed for by the village and what the company claimed the property is worth.
A case consolidating the 2017 and 2018 tax years has a pretrial conference set for March 8 with a court trial scheduled to begin March 23.
Another case from 2019 has a telephone scheduling conference set for Feb. 4.
Mike Denor, who assesses properties for Howard and other area municipalities, said he participated last week in a court-ordered mediation session held remotely related to the 2017 and 2018 tax years, but an impasse remains to reach a settlement for the property’s assessed value.
Denor said another mediation session is scheduled for Jan. 28, three days after the Howard village board’s next meeting.
Of the three approaches used in Wisconsin for assessing a property – market, cost and income – he said he used the cost approach related to what it would cost to develop the property as it’s currently being used.
Denor said he looked at all three approaches to assess the property – including any sales of comparable properties in the area, which there were none, to determine a possible market value – and is confident his assessment of the Woodman’s property is not excessive.
According to Brown County land records, the 18.137 acres of property where the Woodman’s store is located is currently assessed for $12,649,900 – $4,255,000 for the land and $8,394,900 for the improvements.
County records also show Woodman’s paid more than $200,000 in property taxes annually for the 2017 through 2019 tax years, with $216,081 due for 2020.
In court documents alleging Woodman’s is entitled to a refund because of excessive property taxes, the company claimed the 2018 value of the property was no more than $5.25 million.
However, the 2018 property value was assessed by the village at $11,743,300.
Woodman’s filed an objection to the 2018 assessment with the village’s Board of Review and requested to waive the hearing, which the board approved to be heard in court with the company’s 2017 appeal also pending in Brown County Circuit Court.
In addition to claiming the tax imposed on the property is excessive, Woodman’s also alleged through its attorneys with the Milwaukee-based law firm of Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP the 2018 assessment was not uniform with the assessment of other properties in the village and the state, thereby violating the Uniformity Clause of the Wisconsin Constitution.
Along with seeking a refund of all property taxes it alleged are excessive, Woodman’s is asking to be awarded all litigation costs incurred by the company and any other relief deemed appropriate in court.
The village, now represented by attorney John Bruce of West & Dunn in Two Rivers, has denied Woodman’s was subjected to excessive property taxes and also denied the property’s fair market value is $5.25 million.
The village has demanded the litigation filed against it by Woodman’s attorneys be dismissed and it receive costs, disbursements and attorneys’ fees in defense of the action.
Dark store loophole
This is not the first time the village has been in a legal dispute with a retailer over a property tax assessment.
That was the case with the Menards store in Howard, where the company ended up dropping its lawsuit in 2017, when it didn’t reach a settlement with the village for a lower assessment.
Companies have sought throughout the state to get their assessments lowered with what’s known as the dark store loophole, which relates to commercial retailers and manufacturers challenging the assessed value of their properties by claiming they 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 with that lost property tax revenue, such as with homeowners having more of the tax burden.
Village Administrator Paul Evert said he believes Howard could prevail in court against Woodman’s.
Evert said a state court of appeals decided last fall to uphold the Village of Plover’s valuation of a large Lowe’s store.