Board resolution asks Legislature to prevent national big-box companies from getting reduced assessments
The Village of Grafton has joined other municipalities in opposing tax loopholes they say are being used by national retail chains to shift an unfair share of property taxes from commercial to residential taxpayers.
The Village Board on Monday adopted a resolution urging Gov. Scott Walker and the Wisconsin State Legislature to pass a law assuring fair property valuation of national chain commercial properties.
“Our state Legislature needs to address this sooner or later,” Village Administrator Darrell Hofland told the board.
The resolution is based on information from the Wisconsin League of Municipalities, which stated that Target, Meijer and other big-box chains are using what is known as the “Dark Store Theory” to argue for significant reductions in their assessed valuations.
According to the league, under this strategy, companies argue that the assessed value of thriving stores should be based on comparing their buildings to vacant or abandoned stores of similar size.
The companies further argue that the stores would never sell on the open market for their actual cost of construction because they were built exclusively for the retail business that first occupied it.
Most national retailers rent their stores rather than owning real estate. According to the league, Walgreens was leasing 80% of its 8,300 stores nationally as of August 2014, and CVS owned only 5% of its 7,800 stores at the end of 2014.
In board of review and judicial appeals, Walgreens and CVS have sought to cut their property tax bills by more than 50%, the league stated. A circuit court ruling sided with Walgreens in its challenge of the City of Oshkosh’s assessment, awarding the company a $69,549 tax refund, according to the league.
Hofland said the tax loopholes will cause a significant tax shift from commercial to residential and other nonresidential taxpayers. Homeowners in Wisconsin pay more than 70% of the total property tax levy.
“That disproportionate burden on homeowners is about to get much worse unless the Legislature takes action,” the league stated.
Among the national chain retail companies with stores in Grafton are Walgreens, Target and Meijer.
Hofland said the village has been contacted by Meijer representatives to discuss the store’s property valuation. “We’re looking for direction from the state to not allow circuit court judges to set the precedent,” he said.
According to the league, other states have taken steps to address the issue. Among them is Indiana, where a Republican-controlled legislature passed bipartisan legislation prohibiting assessors from valuing new big-box stores the same as nearby abandoned stores of comparable size.
“It looks like there’s always someone trying to use a loophole,” Village President Jim Brunnquell said before the board passed the resolution.
A copy of the village’s resolution will be sent to Grafton’s state legislators and the governor.