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‘Dark stores’ affects all communities

By now, many people have at least heard of the “dark store” theory. The practice — which entails “big box” stores using the Michigan Tax Tribunal to lower their property taxes by 50% or more in some cases — has been going on for more than a decade.

For example, Marquette Township alone has noted nearly $3 million in tax revenue reduction related to the dark store issue, according to a recent Journal article by Lisa Bowers.

This has a ripple effect on other entities, as Marquette Township disperses some of its tax revenue to other governmental entities, such as Marquette County, MARQ-Tran and the Marquette Area Public Schools, to name a few.

Education has been especially hard hit by the “dark store theory.”

The Marquette Area Public Schools’ operating fund has been reduced by nearly $1.2 million in cumulative budget reductions or refunds due to this issue, the article stated.

The Marquette Township operating fund has seen about $313,000 disappear over the last 11 years, and the Marquette County operating fund has been reduced by nearly $338,000, according to Marquette Township Assessor Dulcee Atherton’s calculations.

Marquette Township is not alone, as according to a Michigan State University study, tax revenue reductions in at least 72% of Michigan’s counties have occurred under the “dark store” method.

This leaves municipal officials frustrated, while local tax assessors are bound by applicable state in their valuations of all properties.

In fact, five bills have been introduced at the state level with the intent of closing the dark store loophole but each of them has stalled.

And the onslaught keeps building.

State legislators from both parties are publicly opposing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recent reappointment of Victoria Enyart to a four-year term to the Michigan Tax Tribunal.

These legislators include Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Township and Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette.

It was Enyart who reduced the taxable value for the Lowes Home Center along U.S. 41 from $60 per square foot to $25 per square foot in 2012. That resulted in local taxing entities paying the big box giant $500,000 for 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The end result is less money for education, emergency services, municipal operations, transportation, roads, veterans, libraries and more.

Perhaps assessing law needs to be changed. It seems clear, at least to municipal leaders, that the law needs to be applied more fairly.

— The Mining Journal, Marquette

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