GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -- Voters in 16 Wisconsin counties and one municipality in Lincoln County will be asked about closing dark store loopholes this November.
Five of those counties are right here in Northeast Wisconsin: Brown, Green Lake, Manitowoc, Outagamie and Winnebago.
The loophole allows a company to assess its property taxes based on the value of an empty store instead of one in operation, so it ends up paying far less.
Because local governments aren't collecting as much, they often make up the difference taxing homeowners and small businesses.
The non-binding referendum question on the ballot asks voters:
“Should the state legislature enact proposed legislation that closes the Dark Store loopholes, which currently allow commercial retail properties to significantly reduce the assessed valuation and property tax of such properties, resulting in a substantial shift in taxes levied against other tax paying entities, such as residential home owners, and/or cuts in essential services provided by an affected municipality?”
“This is going to have a profound impact on both, not only services that the county and the municipalities and school districts provide, but it's also going to have an impact on the individual property owner who owns a home or has a residential property,” said Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach.
In some cases, big box retailers are trying to have their property taxes cut by 50 percent, leaving the difference to be made up by taxpayers and local municipalities.
In Brown County there are five retailers taking legal action against municipalities, that are trying to get their property re-assessed for less using the loophole.
Those include: Walmart in Bellevue, Shopko in De Pere, Woodman's in Howard, Bank Mutual in Green Bay and Huntington Bank in Suamico.
“Unfortunately if the tax burden is reduced, that significantly either services would have to be cut or others taxes would have to be increased,” said David Hemery, Brown County Corporation Counsel.
In Wisconsin, taxpayers pay 68 percent of property taxes collected by local governments.
State Senate President Roger Roth (R-Appleton) says the administration has worked to lower residential property taxes, which is why he's proposed a bill to close the loophole.
“If we don't fix this, all the work we've done on lowering property taxes those residential rates will start to rise. That's why I introduced this bill, which will make it so you can't use a dark and distressed piece of property as a comparable to a business property that is not dark distressed,” said Sen. Roth.
Right now the bill is being reviewed at the legislative council committee so stake holders can weigh in and questions can be answered.
Sen. Roth says he hopes the piece of legislation can be passed next session.
Sen. Roth's democratic opponent, Lee Snodgrass, responded to our report on twitter:
Sen. Roth is being dishonest and misleading his constituents in order to try and keep his job. What he conveniently leaves out is that he had a majority vote to get this bill passed in bipartisan fashion yet torpedoed his own proposal on the floor. https://t.co/82o54dtZTT— Snodgrass for Senate (@Snodgras4Senate) October 9, 2018
Counties are also concerned that if tax incremental financing (TIF) is used on one of these properties the municipalities will still have to go back to the tax payers.
"Not only do we get the reassessment and have to address all that, now the municipality that is managing that TIF is going to have to go back to the school districts, go back to everyone, the revenue that we built this TIF on, is no longer there so we don’t have the revenue to support the infrastructure that we put in to help support this businesses coming in, and now we’re going to have to ask the tax payers again to compensate for not only the reassessed value of the property, but also the TIF,” said Streckenbach.