Now You See It, Now You Don’t!!

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 9.21.26 AMIf you wanted to follow up or see previous rulings on “Dark Store” petitions to the MI Tax Tribunal, you probably should have checked last year.  That was when we gathered the  “Check Your County” listings based on the Docket Searches in MI Tax Tribunal. We searched the system to see which big box store filed a petition appeal and what final amounts were awarded.

Launched in February, 2014, the new e-system is described by the Tribunal as a combination of “several new systems that will make the tax assessment dispute process more user-friendly and transparent for all parties.  As part of the Tribunal’s enhanced website the administrative tax court unveiled new E-Filing and case Management systems, as well as an improved docket search resource.”

Indeed, it was a wonderful source of information that really awakened us to the state-wide problem at hand revealing the scope in award amounts and numbers of claims. All awards meant tax dollars every local municipality had to pay back to the petitioner and their lawyers within the prescribed 28 day time period….many ranging from 1/3 to over 1/2 of initial assessed taxable values.

Recently, however, I noticed that many previous records were not coming up in the County search. Trying a state-wide search by corporate entity (Petitioner), I found that most of these records were now listed as Purged. That, in effect, removed all the actual document links to these rulings so that amounts were no longer available for public perusal. Also, information about the law firm handling the petition or the ruling judge was not shown.

I also looked Decisions section of the MI Tax Tribunal site over the past 5 years.  While these Judgements are linked to documents showing petition information, there are very few of judgements listed for any of the big box stores. I literally found one each from Lowe’s, Menard & Target, all of which have many more petitions filed in most of the counties throughout the state.

So on this alone, updating our “Check your Counties” web page would be very difficult…if not impossible given the sketchy records available in the MITT Docket search engine. I guess transparency of information is everything, especially once you have a taste for it!

For example, here are some screen shots of current searches:

Searching for Shopko in Marquette County, the results are “no Records” – but, here is the screen shot from a search for Shopko statewide (leaving the County entry box blank) ShopKo_MITT_docket_ 2016-04-05

 

These are two partial lists of Meijer Stores around the state. Top is from Feb 2016; next is from April 2016… Notice, the closed records have now been Purged:

2016-02-17MeijerTTStatus PM

Meijer_MITT_Status 2016-04-05

Some other search results also showed Disposed rulings displayed along with Purged. The Disposed records are still linked to documents that show the petition information. Since you can only assume that the Purged records for the same corporation have similar information to the Disposed, you could use that as a guide.

While this new e-system is lauded by the Tribunal as both efficient (reducing a back load of over 40,000 cases to more manageable numbers) and transparent, current searches have been frustrating and almost wasted effort. One is left to “assume” and “guess” as to how much this irresponsible ‘dark store’ model has cost our local communities. After all, the lost property tax revenue will keep on affecting communities for the next 20 years, having data tracking in a readily available history would be enlightening for the upcoming generations.

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