Monona city officials appear to have temporarily settled a pair of lawsuits by Walmart challenging its property assessment, but that doesn’t mean the city is giving up on the broader issue.
Alders on Monday will consider a resolution to donate $2,500 to the League of Wisconsin Municipalities (LWM) to lobby for a change in the law that has given big box stores the green light in challenging assessments and shifting their tax burden onto smaller businesses and homeowners.
“The League of Wisconsin Municipalities is continuing its effort to keep the dark store and Walgreens tax loophole efforts in the political forefront, so they’ve asked the communities from throughout Wisconsin if they could make a financial contribution for this effort, which I think will include lobbying, public education, things of that nature,” City Administrator April Little told the city council July 16 when the resolution was first introduced.
The dark store theory argues the value of thriving business should be based on the value of vacant or abandoned buildings of similar size. Proponents argue that regardless of location or how updated a building is, the value for property tax purposes should be based on the value of buildings and locations abandoned prior to moving into a new store at a new location.
The Walgreens decision is based on a Walgreens v. City of Madison Supreme Court decision in 2008.
The corner properties are developed to the retailer’s specifications and leased to the company, which attorneys argue is the wrong tool to determine the properties’ value. Instead, they claim assessments should be based on the amount the landlord could get if the drugstore moved out and a different retailer moved in.
In a letter from the LWM, $1,200 was asked for as a donation. Alder Andrew Kitslaar said because Monona has several big box stores and could potentially lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes, he and others favored a larger donation.
“This is very small and a modest amount compared to what we could lose out if the dark store bill doesn’t go through and close the loophole,” he said. “What are the chances of success? Who knows what the Legislature would look like in 2019? But, Scott Walker … has stated that if it’s on his desk, he would sign it.”
In the last legislative session, bills to change the loopholes were introduced with bipartisan support, but because it was opposed by leadership in the state Senate, neither was ever voted on.
Despite that, Kitslaar said he felt good about the future of the bills.
“I feel positive about what could happen, because they are bipartisan bills,” he said.
Alder Chad Speight favors closing the loopholes but was reluctant to give Walker credit for saying he would sign the bills. He said Walker was only posturing in an election year, knowing the bills will never make it to his desk for signing before election day.
Little and Alder Jennifer Kuhr testified in favor of the bills before the Senate.