Last week, Walmart continued a pattern by suing the City of Sheboygan over property taxes. The company says its Sheboygan outlet has been over-taxed by the city, as the debate over “dark stores” in Wisconsin continues.
In an official complaint, Walmart lawyers argue that their property taxes for 2017 are “excessive,” and they want the City of Sheboygan to issue them a refund.
The Sheboygan Walmart was assessed at $13 million by the city, but Robert A. Hill, a lawyer representing Walmart, says the outlet should be assessed at just $9.7 million. According to him, Walmart stands on strong legal ground in its argument.
According to the 1921 Wisconsin Supreme Court, property tax can only be enforced uniformly if every single piece of real estate is valued based on its sale value. Hill says, “Don’t carve out exceptions to the usual rule, which is, my property is worth what you will pay me for it. Nothing more, nothing less.”
The City of Sheboygan is the third municipality in Sheboygan County that Walmart is suing over property taxes. The suit, filed last week, brings the “Dark Store Theory” back onto the statewide radar.
Jimmy Anderson, a Democrat representing part of Dane County in the State Assembly, says Walmart is one of several large companies exploiting a dark store loophole, which allows big retailers to pay property taxes as though they were an empty building.
Anderson says that this sort of exploitation would raise property taxes for hardworking families across multiple of the state’s counties.
This lawsuit is only the most recent that Walmart has filed against municipalities across Wisconsin this year, including Monona. Hill says the dark store theory is nothing more than a false media frenzy that cities use to over-tax large, big-box retailers like Walmart.
Sheboygan has joined dozens of other municipalities in Wisconsin that demand legislative change in the state capitol. The League of Wisconsin Municipalities has pressured lawmakers to institute new property tax laws that allow cities to tax high-revenue stores at a higher rate than empty ones.
Representative Anderson believes there is wide-ranging support for these legislative changes, but that these bills aren’t headed toward an official vote just yet.
Walmart representatives say they are dealing with a case of discrimination. City officials and their allies in the state legislature believe they have the duty to close the Dark Store tax loophole.
WORT reporter Christian Phelps has the story.