Rep. Rick Gundrum, R-Slinger, touched on multiple topics
during a brief presentation before West Bend Common
Council members on Monday.
McLean Bennett/Daily News
WEST BEND — A state
representative told city leaders this week that lawmakers in Madison
were working on a raft of bills aimed at helping address “Dark
Store” tax lawsuits targeting cities like West Bend.
“Those are not a total fix-all, but it’s a start,” state Rep. Rick
Gundrum, R-Slinger, said of the three bills slated for more
discussion this legislative session.
Mayor Kraig Sadownikow, though, took issue with the bills, telling a
reporter after Gundrum’s talk that none of them went far enough in
addressing what’s become a headache-inducing tax assessment issue.
The “Dark Store” name refers to a slate of lawsuits targeting cities
and other governments around the country, in which retailers —
usually big-box chain stores — seek reductions on their property
taxes by arguing their operating outlets should be valued no
differently than if they were empty (or “dark”).
City officials throughout Wisconsin have argued the Dark Store
“loophole,” as the issue has often been termed, is threatening to
reduce corporations’ local tax bills while pushing higher property
tax costs to nearby homeowners.
One of the current state bills, as Gundrum described it, would let
local units of government — including cities, counties and school
boards — share costs related to property assessments.
That bill, he said, “potentially gives you a bigger fund resource to
fight these challenges in court should they go there.”
Another proposal would open up increased access by assessors to some
property documents — and could limit the ability of property owners
to appeal assessments if they weren’t forthcoming in providing
paperwork requested by assessors.
The third bill that Gundrum said lawmakers were working on would
create quicker procedures for challenging assessments.
Gundrum said he found the new bills a “useful tool” in addressing
what’s become a wave of lawsuits around the state. Still, he said,
“the ultimate solution” may lie in a bill in the state Senate that
would go further in fixing the issue.
“Hopefully we will get some traction on that,“ the Slinger
Republican said of the Senate bill.
That bill would require properties to be assessed at their “highest
and best use,” according to an analysis by the state’s Legislative
Reference Bureau, and would clarify how assessors should compare
properties’ values. The legislation would also tie up questions over
assessing the value of leased properties, another issue that’s
occasionally driven litigation.
Sadownikow said he didn’t think any of the three bills mentioned
Monday went far enough in closing the taxing loophole.
“This is kind of dancing around,” he said of the proposed
legislation, which he explained might help with some litigation
costs and collaborative cost-sharing.
“I would much rather see the Legislature step up to the plate and do
what is right and close this loophole once and for all,” he said.
West Bend has been no stranger to Dark Store issues. A judge here
recently tossed out a lawsuit by Menards to reduce its local
property tax bill after a motion to dismiss the case. Still, the
lawsuit had been in courts for three years by the time the case
ended. And a related tax dispute involving West Bend’s Walmart — an
issue that’s been in courts since 2017 — is still awaiting
<<EARLIER: DARK STORE LOOPHOLE: Is closing the loophole the answer?