Walmart lawsuit could mean higher taxes for Monona residents

MONONA (WKOW) --- Big box stores are making a move that could cost you big bucks. It's called the “dark store theory.” And retail giants like Walmart are using it to lower its tax assessment across the state and country.

“The dark store is the name of a big box store in which there is no occupant. So a shopping mall where a major occupant has left, that's called a dark store,” said State Senator Mark Miller (D-Monona).

In an attempt to reduce its tax burden, Walmart filed a lawsuit against the City of Monona to cut its tax assessment.

“There was a case about 8 or 10 years ago that basically said that they should only be valued at the value of the underlying land, not on the structure on top of it. And so the occupied stores that are currently doing business there said they should be valued the same way because all property would be valued equally,” he said.

“They would like to property tax assessment by about $19 million,” said Monona Mayor Mary O'Connor.

If the lawsuit is successful, homeowners and businesses in Monona would see a tax increase or reduction in city services.

“So it comes out to something like $110 per household. Because somehow that money has to be made up because we need it to fund city services,” O'Connor said.

On Thursday, Monona residents met at the Monona Community Center to learn how they can fight off this strategy. Attendees learned about two pieces of pending legislation, Senate Bill 291 and 292, that would close the loophole that allows stores to have their property assessments lowered.

“So what one of these bills would be to overturn that court decision that said that big stores need to be valued the same as the land,” said State Senator Mark Miller (D-Monona).

“It tends to fly underneath the radar. I think a lot of people don't know about it. And our hope is by organizing a meeting like this and inviting people to come in, we can spread the word that this is happening,” said Peter McKeever, Monona resident and organizer of the meeting.

Walmart issued the following statement:

“We go through the property tax assessment process in communities across the United States. Like any taxpayer, when we disagree with an assessment, we secure our own appraisal and begin the appeal process. In this instance we believe the assessment we received was not accurate.”

“Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce opposes the legislation. And they're quoted as saying that these stores need it in order to remain competitive. I question that. I think Walmart is more than competitive,” McKeever said.

State Senator Miller said the SB 291 and 292 have passed the committee. Now they need to be scheduled for a full Senate vote.

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