Sun Prairie Advisory Referendum

Should the state legislature protect residential property taxpayers by preventing non-residential property owners from using tax loopholes that unfairly shift more of the tax burden to homeowners, who already pay 68% of the statewide property tax levy, by enacting legislation that: 1) prohibits using closed, vacant (dark) properties as comparable properties for determining the assessed value of open, occupied, and fully operational properties; and 2) overturns the 2008 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in Walgreens v. City of Madison, which is being interpreted by the courts as requiring municipalities to assess many leased commercial properties at a substantial discount, often 50% below the actual sale prices of such properties?

___ Yes ___ No

LWVDC Analysis

This is an advisory referendum to inform state legislators about the opinion of Sun Prairie residents. This question addresses the same “dark store” issue as the Dane County referendum, and the analysis is the same.

The “Dark Store Theory” is an appraisal method which asserts that a currently operating big box store should be valued based solely on the sales of similar sized businesses that have recently sold. Current sales of big box stores are predominantly stores that are vacant and closed (aka “dark stores”) rather than currently operating ones. In the Midwest, chain stores such as Lowe’s, Best Buy and Menard’s are pursuing appeals of their property assessments using the dark store theory. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce opposes such referenda, asserting that “local governments have illegally over-assessed businesses” and that referenda like these are “a tool for tax and spend government officials to raise revenue.”

The League of Wisconsin Municipalities supports laws that would forbid the “Dark Store strategy.” LWM says “A carefully-orchestrated wave of 100s of lawsuits in Wisconsin is forcing assessors to slash the market value of thriving national retail stores, shifting their tax burden to local mom and pop shops and to their home-owning customers.”

An academic paper on this controversy can be found here.

A Yes vote advises the Wisconsin legislature that you support a law change to prevent assessors from calculating active stores’ property values by comparing them to dark (closed) stores. A No vote advises the legislature that you are satisfied with current law about assessing box store values.