Tag Archives: assessment

Cities struggle as big box retailers fight to minimize tax assessments

Some big-box retailers in Wisconsin have successfully challenged their tax assessments by claiming they should pay the same rate as a store that’s closed and remains vacant.

Critics say that “dark store” legal loophole could cause municipalities to raise residential taxes to make up the difference.

The legal tactic is relatively new and has some cities struggling to keep up, according to Rocco Vita, chairman of the Wisconsin Association of Assessing Officers’ Legislative Committee.

“The stores have this very polished and professional legal team that peddles a product — property tax mitigation strategies,” Vita said. “All of a sudden, this strategy is gaining power in the Midwest. It has taken people by surprise.”

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue requires property tax assessors to account for the fair market value of a property. That includes both the value of the building and its location.

Retailers have successfully argued in court that there should be no tax difference between their thriving businesses and the vacant retailers down the block, Vita said.

In one case, Menards argued in a lawsuit filed in July that the value of its store in Fond du Lac assessed by the city at $9.2 million should be no more than $5.2 million. A similar lawsuit from Target argues that Fond du Lac should reduce its taxes on the retailer by about a third, according to USA Today Network-Wisconsin.

In another case, Oshkosh was ordered to pay Walgreens nearly $306,000 in overcharged taxes, plus court fees and interest. Last summer, two similar lawsuits surfaced from Menards and Lowe’s.

Oshkosh City Attorney Lynn Lorenson said municipalities are worried that as retailers win these lawsuits, more stores will follow. The limits of the loophole are unclear, she said.

“If one type of business or one type of property gets more favorable treatment, then everybody is going to be looking at that,” Lorenson said. “They’ll say, ‘If Walgreens had success, maybe we can use a similar argument.””

The League of Wisconsin Municipalities has helped draft legislation to plug the loophole, according to Curt Witynski, the league’s assistant director. The league hopes lawmakers will introduce in January.

Justice Department announces Milwaukee Police Dept. review

The U.S. Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services this week announced the start of the “collaborative reform initiative” with the Milwaukee Police Department.

“The COPS Office will conduct a thorough, independent and objective assessment of the Milwaukee Police Department’s policies, practices and accountability systems,” said COPS office director Ronald Davis in a news release. “The findings and recommendations that come from such an assessment will empower the community to hold the department accountable to the best standards of the law enforcement profession.” 

Following the assessment, the COPS Office will issue a public report detailing the findings, along with recommendations for improvement.

The COPS Office will assess implementation of recommendations over an 18-month period following the initial assessment.

The Justice Department said the program is an independent way to transform a law enforcement agency through an analysis of policies, practices, training, tactics and accountability methods.

The initiative is designed to provide technical assistance to agencies facing significant law enforcement-related issues.

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, a Democrat from Milwaukee, said in a prepared statement,  “I am encouraged by Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn’s decision to request this investigation and I am hopeful that the recommendations made by the U.S. Department of Justice will help the Milwaukee Police Department better serve our community. Given the number of high profile incidences in my district, including the deaths of Dontre Hamilton and Derek Williams, change in our current system is long overdue. We must do everything we can to strengthen the relationship between the citizens of Milwaukee and those who have sworn to protect them.”

Moore added, “However, I remain deeply concerned about allegations of racial profiling and ‘stop and frisk’ style policies that I fear are deeply imbedded in our current policing strategy. While this Office of Community Oriented Policing Services review represents a promising step forward, it does not involve the type of in-depth legal investigation I have called for through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. In the past, I have advocated for a full ‘pattern and practice’ review of the Milwaukee Police Department to broker the change many of my constituents feel is needed.”

The COPS Office is providing a review and recommendations in Spokane, Washington; Philadelphia; St. Louis County; Salinas, California; Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Calexico, California, and has completed the process in Las Vegas. 

The COPS office is a federal agency responsible for advancing community policing nationwide.

Feds: No ‘significant impact’ in beam from Illinois to South Dakota

A federal government study has concluded that building and operating the proposed experiment in which scientists would shoot a beam of neutrinos from Illinois to the western South Dakota town of Lead would not have a significant impact on the environment.

The Rapid City Journal reports the draft environmental assessment from the Department of Energy studied potential effects of the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility and Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment at the Sanford Underground Research Facility.

None of the effects on people and the environment, as well as floodplains and wetlands, were considered major, so the department issued a “no significant impact” finding.

The project would help scientists learn about neutrinos, which zip right through us. Neutrinos are so fast and small that scientists have barely detected them for study.