Walmart files suit against city of Rhinelander
Seeks property tax refund for ‘excessive assessment,’ non-uniform assessment
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
Lincoln Plaza, Inc. has filed a claim against the city of Rhinelander, seeking $97,925.50, plus interest, for what it states is “excessive tax assessment” of its Walmart property at 2121 Lincoln St. in Rhinelander. The suit was filed with the Oneida County clerk of courts July 25 by Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin and Brown, the same Milwaukee law firm Menards employed for its 2017 suit against the city.
The suit alleges the property’s total assessed value of $13,970,400 is more than $4 million higher than the property’s fair market value. Walmart argues that the fair market value for the property is no higher than $9,163,692.
The suit also states that “the 2017 assessment was not uniform with the assessment of other property in the city and state and therefore, violates the Uniformity Clause of the Wisconsin Constitution.”
The Uniformity Clause is also referred to as the “dark store” tax loophole. Major retailers throughout the state use the legal argument to allow their store’s property tax value to be comparable to empty stores.
“The dark store theory enables retailers to pay lower taxes on stores by arguing that their stores are similar in value to vacant (i.e. “dark stores”) stores–even if those stores are in different parts of the state,” city attorney Carrie Miljevich said when Menards filed suit. The city settled with Menards in December 2017, refunding $15,994. Initially, the Eau Claire-based company sought more than $51,000 from the city.
Walmart’s property taxes for the Rhinelander store in 2017 totaled $304,609.40. The suit alleges “the correct tax on the property for 2017 should be no higher than $206,683.90.”
Last month the city council voted to send $1,200 to the League of Wisconsin Municipalities to assist the organization in its efforts to legislate changes to the “dark store loopholes” in state law. City property taxes help fund schools, police and fire departments and other public services.
The city Finance, Wage and Salary Committee was set to take up the matter in closed session Aug. 7. The city has 20 days from the date of the filing to respond in writing from when the suit was brought by the company July 25.