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Wisconsin Votes Against Dark Store Assessment

by John O'Neil, Chicago, November 2018

 

Wisconsin voters approved an advisory referendum against the so-called "dark store" assessment methodology. At issue is whether an occupied big-box retail outlet is worth more than an unoccupied store.

 

Dark store referendums were approved by voters in all counties, cities, and villages that had the advisory referendum on the ballot, including:

 

  • Manitowoc, Winnebago, Green Lake, Vernon, Monroe, Barron, Walworth, Outagamie, Grant, Brown, Jefferson, Washington, Rock, Kenosha, Portage, Dane and Washburn Counties

  • Merrill

  • Sun Prairie

  • Glendale

  • Kenosha

  • DeForest

  • West Milwaukee

 

The local referendums won't change state law, but will give lawmakers a sense of where voters across the state stand on the issue.

 

Specialized Property

 

Retailers who protest their property valuation based on the dark store strategy argue that large buildings, which are often 100,000+ square feet are worth much less than the construction cost because they are built for a specific purpose and user. They contend these types of stores should be valued based on comparable sales of dark stores of similar size and utility.

 

Dark Store Legislation

 

Counties and municipalities want to pressure state lawmakers to pass legislation restricting the use of dark store assessments. As of last year, nearly 60 towns, cities and villages had paid tax refunds to big-box stores based on the methodology.

 

Dark store legislation stalled last year. One bill would clarify that lease agreements cannot be factored into property valuations. The other would have prohibited closed or vacant properties from being valued the same as occupied retail stores. Lawmakers plan to revisit the issue in next year's legislative session.