A group of Monona residents is organizing to learn what they can do to prevent Walmart and other big-box stores from unfairly transferring the stores’ property tax burden to homeowners and other property owners in the city. They are meeting Thursday, November 16, at 7:00 pm at the Monona Community Center.
Monona residents are reacting to Walmart’s lawsuit against the City of Monona in Dane County Circuit Court seeking to reduce its tax assessment from $24.5 million to $9 million, a 63.25% decrease.
“We don’t think it is right for Walmart to force local home and business owners to pay more property taxes or accept reduced municipal services,” said Peter McKeever. “Walmart receives a lot of municipal services and as a member of our community it has an obligation to pay property taxes on the full value of its property. This is a thriving store, not an abandoned building.”
If Monona’s Walmart is successful in reducing their assessment, Walmart’s tax bill would be reduced by an estimated $433,000. The city would lose $111,000 in tax revenue and the Monona Grove School District would lose about $245,000. To maintain the current level of city services, the average homeowner’s property taxes would increase an additional $113, and the average commercial property, or small business, approximately $600 more, according to city officials.
“I think just about everyone who has heard of this and other similar lawsuits has come to the same conclusion – something is not right,” said Marena Kehl.
The group has invited Sen. Mark Miller to a forum to discuss pending legislative responses to Walmart’s lawsuit and what local residents can do to help get the legislation passed.
“We had questions, and we thought other people probably have questions too. We knew Senator Miller has been working to pass legislation to close this unfair loophole, and the idea of having a Q&A session with him just sort of materialized. I called his office and he was happy to do it.” said McKeever.
Sen. Miller will meet with Monona residents and local officials at 7:00 pm on Thursday, November 16, at the Monona Community Center.
Walmart seeks to have homeowners and local businesses bear an increased tax burden in spite of the services the store receives. On average, the Monona Police Department pays a ‘visit’ to Walmart three times each day.
“If the police are at Walmart that means they are not someplace else where they might be needed,” said Mayor Mary O’Connor. “I am pleased to see our residents organizing to help prevent Walmart from passing its responsibility as a member of our community to homeowners and small businesses.”
The basis for the lawsuit is a technicality in the state’s tax assessment statutes. A so-called “dark store” loophole could allow them to pass along their taxes to the residents and property owners in Monona by being assessed as an empty store that is out of business instead of as a thriving and active business. Monona is home to eight big box stores and if this lawsuit is successful, other big boxes would likely follow suit leading to more taxes being handed off by these entities to residents and small businesses in Monona.
“If all the big stores are eventually paying less than half the taxes they pay today, what’s that going to do to our school budgets? Or police force? Fire department? Garbage collection, snow removal, leaf and brush pickup? Cuts like these will seriously harm the quality of life in Monona and its attractiveness to new residents,” said Teresa Radermacher. “People live in Monona because of the quality of life we enjoy and the municipal services we receive.”
“We are not the only Wisconsin city being sued by Walmart and other big box stores. This is really an issue that’s popping up all over the state and indeed, the country,” said Mayor O’Connor.
Two legislative proposals to address this threat to local taxpayers have been introduced in the State Senate. However, the Republican leadership in the State Senate has refused to schedule the bills for a vote. The bills passed the committee and now need to be scheduled for a vote by the full Senate. The state’s major business advocacy group, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, strongly opposes the bills.
“Walmart and other big box stores like Target and Kohls should realize that when consumers have more money in their pocket they are more able to buy the products these stores sell.” said McKeever. “They are biting the hands that feed them.”
“We encourage all Monona residents to join this discussion with Sen. Miller,” said Radermacher. “We can learn what we can do to help get this important legislation passed and protect our community and others like us across the state.”