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Wisconsin Marks Dark Store Day

by John O'Neil, Chicago, December 2017

 

Wisconsin is the latest state to take up a fight against "dark store" assessment methodology. In early December, mayors, village presidents, and assemblymen held a Dark Store Day to raise awareness about the issue and call on state legislators to change the law that allows a fully operational big-box retailer to be valued for property taxes the same as a vacant, dark store.

 

Issue Has Been Debated for Decades

 

Dark store tax assessment litigation has been around since the 1990s. In Wisconsin, it appears to have gained traction in the mid-to-late 2000s.

 

Big box businesses argue that their buildings are so unique to their needs that if they left, the property would not be worth what it cost to build. It's also common for deed restrictions to prohibit the sale of these buildings to competitors. That why businesses believe their property value should be similar to a vacant, dark store property.

 

Proposed Legislation

 

Supporters of legislation say they are simply trying to level the playing field. They say with dark store assessment, large retailers have an advantage that's not available to homeowners and small businesses.

 

Two bills have already passed at the committee level:

 

  • Senate Bill 291 establishes a “highest and best use” standard to evaluate properties for tax assessment.

  • Senate Bill 292 clarifies that “a property is not comparable to the property being assessed if… the property is dark property and the property being assessed is not dark property.”

 

Opposition

 

Legislation outlawing dark store assessment has been repeatedly opposed by the state's largest business group, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC).

 

In a memo sent to the state Senate and endorsed by seven other groups, Corey Fish, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce director of tax, transportation, and legal affairs, encouraged senators to vote down the bills.

 

“These pieces of legislation are detrimental to Wisconsin’s business climate,” he said. “The passage of these bills would lead to increased property tax assessments for all businesses, legal uncertainty, and more litigation.”