Author Archives: Fran

HB 4397 — Re-Introduces Dark Store Curbs

Dark Stores are back in the news again for Michigan Legislature 2017 season. This is still an issue plaguing our state with devastating effects on and local municipal budgets. The question is: How many services can we cut to meet balanced budgets? How long can people do without full-service municipalities?

David Maturen,  current Vice-Chair of the House Tax Policy Committee, is the primary sponsor of HB 4397 . According to Michigan Township Association, “House Bill 4397 addresses the ongoing crisis of the “Dark Store” property tax appeals issue involving the Michigan Tax Tribunal. Specifically, the bill would require Tax Tribunal members to apply standard appraisal procedures when reaching their findings of facts and conclusions of law in larger property tax cases. The bill is a reintroduction of legislation that was approved in the state House of Representatives in June 2016 by a 97-11 margin.”

The Michigan Municipal League (MML),  Michigan Townships Association (MTA), and  Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) all support this legislation. Check out more of the latest news on this issue via links below:

GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, MI – More than $400,000 in annual revenue for the public purse is at stake in a Spectrum Health dispute before the Michigan Tax Tribunal.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A battle pitting big-box retail giants including Menards and Wal-Mart against Wisconsin towns and cities is headed to the Legislature. Republican-backed proposals, written in conjunction with the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, are designed to close the so-called dark store loophole and increase how much the mega-retailers pay local communities in property taxes.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Supreme Court is wading into a hot legal dispute over how to value big-box stores for tax purposes. Values lately have been controversial in Michigan, especially in the Upper Peninsula where communities have been forced to give significant tax refunds based on decisions by the Michigan Tax Tribunal.

For a ‘refresher’ or more in-depth introduction to this issue, please go to the “Boxed In” documentary on the events leading up to the June 2016 passage in the MI House. This video was created by Dr. Dwight Brady and his Advanced Multimedia Journalism class at Northern Michigan University.

Call your MI Representative and those members of the House Tax Policy Committee and express your concerns and wishes for a speedy passage.

HIGHLIGHTS Save MQT, Save MI Minutes for 8/28/15

HIGHLIGHTS – Save MQT, Save MI Minutes for 8/28/15 11:00 amBRITE-EqualityEdit

BRITE Store Kick off – in the works! We now have over 60 stores sign on!!

  • Two committees: one for each MQT & Forsyth Twp –
  • Goal of outreach/celebration all with the consideration of the commitment of businesses that have already signed on
  • Ryan Jarvi, Marquette MIning Journal -was on hand to  find out more about B.R.I.T.E. Store status and progress. We gave him web information & interviews with committee members
  • Much thanks to Ryan’s coverage and overall research on this issue, especially the analysis and interviews on the MI Treasurers Association Survey of economic losses due to Tax Tribunal rulings

Other area groups addressing the “dark store” – tax loophole issue 

1. Fred Kottler: MQT Citizens for Fair Share – MQT Twp Community Center   — Tues 5:30 – 7:00 Sept 22nd – full meeting of next group. They are planning a Community forum Nov 5 – 90 minute informational forum with public speakers representing various sectors in the community and assess losses from $$ impact to quality – will also reach out to Delta County.  They are working to support for legislation and take action locally – planning some action items here

2. Save Delta, Save MI – first meeting in Escanaba – next meeting Tues 5:30 – 7:00 Sept 22nd. There is a  need for more sharing and connections through media both web & FB – Please share with your downstate “friends” to educate on this issue!!  We will be setting up a Save Delta page in  for Delta County updates.

Other  Reports:

  • MQT County Fair booth with Marquette County Democratic Party   – slow but some interest
  • We passed on Save MQt, Save MI materials to Marquette County Democratic Party reps to display/hand out at local unions Labor Day Rally displays @ Lake Bancroft -which were picked up
  • Discuss working on legislation and other legislators – MQT Dems: Gary Peters is interested and took our flyer and said he will be looking into this issue. Please contact your state Senators on this issue (Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow) legislator info & contact is in Resources:


Schedule Next Meeting

Friday – Sept 11th, 11:00am @ PWPL Lions Rm next main meeting

Are We Concerned, YET?

TT RefundsM$The cause and effect of Michigan’s Tax Tribunal rulings over the past few years have taken a toll on local revenue. Much thanks to Ryan Jarvi for uncovering more of this ongoing issue. He has given us some heady figures compiled by the Michigan Association of County Treasurers that should continue to keep the local levels of concern way up there.

An interview with Eaton County Treasurer, Robert Robinson, explains that some of the results of this survey are showing that through…”refunds [from MI Tax Tribunal] — much of it the result of the dark stores philosophy, which routinely reduces taxable values by 50% — local communities…are being severely impacted by lost revenue.”

Anne Giroux, Marquette County Treasurer, says that beyond Tribunal decisions, many judgements are settled by mutual agreements between municipality and business taxpayer. This avoids the added expense of litigating a Tribunal decision, but reduces county revenue, none the less. Giroux said, “The hard part right now…is that there are so many [possible appeals] out there that we don’t know about…”

Jarvi in “Legislators look for ‘dark store’ fix, ” also goes into a clear and detailed look at new “legislation set to go” from Rep. John Kivela and Senator Tom Casperson. There is no time to lose since none of the current decisions are reversible, due to the Headley Amendment. The legislation is written to be retroactive to the 2014 pending appeals, however.  It is also modeled after the recent Indiana loophole-closing legislation unanimously passed this May dealing with the same issue — it only a matter of months from when it was introduced.

Our lawmakers have been at this problem since the 2011-12 as decisions came down using the ‘dark store’ argument, their previous legislation never got out of committee.  We need to do much better letting Lansing know they need to support our communities through solid tax legislation and updating Tax Tribunal policies.

MI Tax Tribunal — What Is It?

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 9.21.26 AMI checked the Michigan Tax Tribunal website  this morning. It is very easy to do and all of the information is public knowledge. There is a brief overview of what the purpose of the tribunal is and what it does. There is an area listing the members of the panel. Each member has a short history by their picture. In case you have not checked it out, here are the members/terms. All members are appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate. There is no explanation for the differences in term limits. Victoria L. Enyart has a notation in her biography that she was part of team working on Prop ‘A’.
Steven Lasher  2010-2018
Preeti P Gadola 2011-2017
David B Marmon 2014-2015
Victoria l. Enyart 2008-2016
Valerie Lafferty 2015-2018.

A look at the Tribunal History page gives a good time-line overview of this body: enacted in 1974,   “as a ‘specialized’ administrative tribunal with jurisdiction over ‘all tax disputes.'” It is based on  the “1969  Report” advisory board findings and recommendations. In 1991, Governor Engler reviewed and reorganized it; in 2011, Governor Snyder transferred it to LARA, Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. The
Tribunal’s rules and procedures were revised in 1981, 1996, and again in 2013.

Currently, true cash value (TVC) of all property is assessed by local municipal assessors following the MI assessment tax manual using multiple criteria for evaluating the worth of the property.  Property owners pay 50% of the TCV. Private property owners may appeal this assessed amount to their county review board first; business/corporate property owners appeal directly to MI Tax Tribunal for a ruling.

What has been happening over the last few years that is different from the rulings of previous decades? A Marquette Mining Journal Op-Ed article of 2-26-13 by Dennis Liimata, former Marquette Township Supervisor gives background on the current “shift” in Tax Tribunal rulings. It shows the trend  toward ruling in favor of large business property tax claims that their property was over valued by municipalities.

“It didn’t used to be this way” Mr. Liimata said. The 2010 Tax Tribunal ruling in favor of Target over the City of Novi, was the first case to use only the criteria that the value should be based on that of vacant or “dark” building. The precedent was set, the Honigman law firm promoted this “victory” and offers their services all over Michigan and the US. Municipalities have been scrambling ever since…Dennis Liimata asks the question: “How far will the MI Tax Tribunal go?” We should be doing the same.

by Zelda Zeimer & Fran Darling

Bridge Magazine Digs into “Dark Store” Issues

Lawmakers to big box stores: Pay your fair share of taxes! ….

 Last year, a Menard’s in Escanaba won a $121,000 tax refund using the “dark stores” argument for lowering its assessed value. That was money the Upper Peninsula city has budgeted for major road repair. (courtesy photo)

“Last year, a Menard’s home improvement store won a property tax appeal that required the City of Escanaba to refund the company $121,000. That’s about the cost of what the Upper Peninsula community of 12,000 on Little Bay de Noc budgeted for major street repairs next year.” —

“Retailers [Michigan Retailers Association] argue that their buildings are worth far less than half the construction cost because they are built to be disposable, single-use big boxes that suit their business’ specific purpose. They contend that their stores should actually be taxed at the rate of comparable properties, by which they mean empty ones that are closed (or dark).

Critics of the dark stores strategy note that when big box retailers move out of a property, they often put a restriction on the deed that prevents any competitor from moving in. As a result, that property can remain empty (or dark) for long periods and lose yet more taxable value. Retailers point to the decreased value on deed-restricted properties and say that lower tax rate should be the standard for taxing stores that are open.”

What do you think? Can you think how many former “big box” stores you formerly patronized over the years that were successfully re-purposed into very viable and just-as-big retail enterprises. Remember how many K-Marts there were?  What are they being used as now? What happened to the many Pamidas across the UP?  ShopKo Stores, Inc. didn’t seem to skip a beat to completely overhaul all those Pamida retail outlets.

We at Close Michigan Loopholes think there is a better way to conduct business in a community at the same time  fostering support and consideration for that community. Unfortunately along with the Michigan Retailers Association, the Detroit-based law firm of Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn, are looking to create and develop this strategy as a model not only for Michigan but across the country. Last January they published an article in Rebusiness Online explaining that local municipal assessors have much to learn and they are going to show them the way:

“Owners of big box retail buildings can take lessons from Michigan on the proper way to value these large, free-standing stores for property tax purposes. The state’s well-developed tax law offers a clear model that is applicable in any state that bases its property tax valuation assessments on the fee simple, value-in-exchange standard.”

Really? What people are also beginning to learn is that true community stewardship starts at home with those that see the need to pay their fair share to the communities that support them.

What’s Happening? SM-SMI_Highlights-July 24

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 12.44.48 PMB.R.I.T.E Stores Kick Off ­​­ Look for it in Late August in Gwinn & Marquette

  • ●  We are finalizing locations and time to hold a “Kick­Off” Celebration in both Gwinn and Marquette. Both are very supportive cities…Both have over 20 B.R.I.T.E. Stores signed on as “​Businesses Recognizing the Importance of Tax Equality.”​ We have a committee working on the details, as we post. Look for more info soon!
  • ●  Please send any ideas to our Facebook and we will get back to you…
  • ●  The quest to visit and sign up more stores continues. If you know any interested stores have them contact us through Facebook or our Close Michigan Loopholes website Contact:­us/

Further Social Actions

●  As the bigbox­-dark store issue is getting more “air­time,” Save Mqt, Save MI is being contacted by various media sources…the word is getting out. But people downstate need to hear correct info and act regarding this great “shift” in public funds from local communities to private interests.

●  Help by “Sharing” to all your Friends and Followers when we post in Facebook or on the Close Loopholes website.

●  Handing out explanation flyers by some of our group members has been great…it you want handout flyers for any event/occasion, let us know: contact us through Facebook or our Close Michigan Loopholes website Contact: ​­us/

Further Community Action ­ Please attend and help pass the word:

  • ●  City Commission ­­ Rally ​@ meeting in two weeks: A​ug 10 ­ 7:00 Monday.​Attend and support/speak if you are a resident..Support your library use and contributions to our community. See the Event in our Facebook Group page: h​ttps://
  • ●  PWPL Board budget session Aug 26… this session ­ is open to public and you can speak in support of your library.
  • ●  Get out and vote –  ​­ Senior Center voting funding ­ Aug 4th in Marquette County, City and Ishpeming Twp.
  • ●  Write city commissioners​and managers via e­mail, AND how important it is to twps to keep support and sets up regional cooperation and benefits ­ schools, too. City Commission always responds, but doesn’t want to be threatened.
  • ●  Look for PWPL Director, Pam Christensen’s, B​.R.I.T.E. Store article for October M​arquette Monthly ­ She will give a wonderful overview of the workings and progress to date and it’s relation to PWPL.
  • Next S​ave MQT, Save MI​ meeting: Lions Rm ­ PWPL, July 31st @ 11:00 am ­ open to all!

B.R.I.T.E. Stores In the News

DanPerkinsBrian Cabell in Word on the Street says: “WHILE LEGISLATORS IN Lansing struggle to deal with the “dark store” crisis and huge reductions in property taxes for box stores, a local group is taking things into their own hands.

SaveMqt, SaveMI has started an initiative known as B.R.I.T.E. (Businesses Recognizing the Importance of Tax Equality). It’s signing up local businesses who are not seeking property tax reductions and who are concerned with maintaining a stable tax base for local communities.

B.R.I.T.E. awards them signs that they can post at their stores. The hope is that the signs will encourage more shoppers to patronize their stores, and will help generate a broader movement supporting local businesses and local communities…”.MORE

MJ_BRITEarticle_TreacyMining Journal MARQUETTE – Local Group Forms to Emphasize Tax Equity: “With the dark store issue posing significant tax revenue impacts to municipalities across the state, a local effort is underway to shed a little light on the situation while recognizing businesses for paying their fair share of taxes….” MORE

Terrible Deal? Bog Box Stores? Check these Numbers $$

Big-box retalowes_storm_clouds_frankieleon-320x267ilers’ new tactic to slash their taxes is the latest example of why cities are better off saying no to the boxes and cultivating Main Streets instead.

“…the harrowing stories out of Michigan and Indiana also serve as a reminder of the deeper problems with big-box retail, and of how much smarter it is for communities to build durable places and stake their future on businesses that are owned locally. Read more in: “For Cities, Big Box Stores are Becoming Even More of a Terrible Deal”   – by Olivia LaVecchia

-Olivia LaVecchia,  a Research Associate with ILSR’s Community-Scaled Economy Initiative. A former reporter, her work has won recognition locally and nationally, including the 2014 “Media for a Just Society” award for newspaper writing.

What’s Happening Save MQT, Save MI Meeting Highlights: 6-19-15

Wayde Jackson reports the results of today’s meeting are as follows:Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 12.44.48 PM

We will not be pushing a boycott of Dark Stores, the group has decided to focus on recruiting more local businesses to support our B.R.I.T.E Store Initiative. So far we have a dozen businesses in Marquette County that have signed on and we will post the names of them on here as well as the website.

Secondly, We are organizing a Public Forum with leaders of the various public services being effected by these Dark Store rulings so people in the community understand how they are being impacted personally by this and we will be providing solutions to this issue.

Lastly, we are trying to reach out to the community via public events in the area and so if you have events you are hosting or know of events in your area that you think would be good for helping spread the message. please feel free to message me.

Our next meeting will be on June 26th at 11:00am in the Lions room of the Peter White Public Library. Thank you for all your support and I hope to see you at our next meeting.

Is There Anything About This That Is Right?

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 9.21.26 AMI was surprised last week to see the recent Tax Tribunal “settlement” with Target.  Just Target TT_Settlemet4-15  signed this past April, it is very telling in the realism of the loss Marquette Township now faces. This case did not go to trial as was scheduled for December, but settled on the agreed upon tax reduction of 1/2 that of the original township assessment. These are the ongoing hurdles that are just the iceberg-tip awaiting local budgets all over the state. Target_Settlmt_Amounts_4-15

Here is the record on file with the MI Tax Tribunal – look it up and while you are at it explore other records and cases now pending. We all stand to loose $$M through property tax returns, while the businesses and industries expect their share of municipal services…how long can this go on?