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“Dark stores” could continue to cost La Crosse homeowners

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While a push to end so-called dark stores loopholes in property tax assessments is again underway in Wisconsin, cities like La Crosse have to deal with ongoing battles with retailers that are looking to take full advantage of those loopholes currently.

“Right now we have litigations ongoing with Kmart and Sears,” La Crosse lead appraiser Pat Burns said. “The new accounts, more recent ones, would be Walmart and Menards.”

The city has recently reached settlements with Macy’s, Bon-Ton and Walgreens over property valuations, refunding approximately $400,000 to those retailers.

Burns says other property owners in the city simply have to pay more to make up for that lost revenue. Retailers have successfully sued cities like La Crosse, saying their new, busy stores should be assessed at the same level as the ones that are vacant.

So, for example, those retailers, like the abandoned Kmart, say they have similar value to, say, a big, busy retailer making money like Menards.

“It sounds right if you’re valuing a dark store with the comparables with a dark store,” Burns said. “But it’s not comparable when you have lease agreements. An active store should be valued with an active store market.”

Burns added that the tax pie remains the same size, regardless of how much big retailers like Sears and Walgreen’s pay — or don’t pay

“If we have a tax revenue that we have to balance, and if the pie changes in that direction, then it will shift into other areas,” Burns said.

Further litigation is ongoing with other big retailers in the city.

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