Columbus Mulling Action Opposing Dark Store Loophole

(Columbus) Columbus may become the latest municipality to stake out a position on the Dark Store controversy. City Administrator Patrick Vander Sanden addressed the topic at the common council’s committee of the whole meeting this week.  Vander Sanden says he thinks the timing is right for the city council to decide if they want to be active in this issue because the legislature is starting up, bills are being proposed and legislators want to hear from those with opinions about it.

Columbus Mayor Michael Thom called it an urgent matter, noting that Dark Store legislation was a topic of conversation during a recent conference in Washington DC attended by over 60 municipal mayors. He says fellow mayors and other community leaders in Washington asked him if this was becoming an issue for the city.  He also spoke with Sun Prairie Mayor Paul Esser, who told him it is becoming an issue with them as well.

Thom says that he believes the public may be ill-informed on how this legislation affects them. A study by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities shows that the tax burden shouldered by homeowners has increased from 51-percent in 1970 to the current 67-percent, while businesses tax share has decreased proportionately. After following the issue for the past few years, Thom thinks the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Association have turned the subject upside down making the public believe that fixing this creates an issue, so public education is important to understand how this affects local taxpayers.

National retailers and municipalities have been at odds over the issue and legislators are now looking to clarify the rules for assessing a store’s value.  Under current practice, major department store chains can claim their stores should be assessed as if they are empty buildings, just like a residential property. Affected municipalities say that shifts a greater burden of the overall tax levy to homeowners.