Video Team member, Michael Williams, tells us the how and why of this video project. He needs your help to bring the final interviews and editing touches to a successful finish….Read and Help! Thanks….
“Hey friends, I’m helping make a mini-documentary about the Michigan Dark Store issue. Our team includes a videographer, a broadcasting professor at Northern Michigan University and myself. That’s it.
In recent years, the Michigan Tax Tribunal has approved large reductions to property taxes for Big Box stores. Stores that successfully appealed their taxes are now being charged as if they are vacant, hence the term “Dark Store.” In extreme cases, their values are slashed by more than 50 percent. And it’s communities who have to make up the difference.
So here’s the synopsis: We’ve been working for months to solidify interviews with experts (like attorneys and politicians working on both sides of the issue), as well as studying to make sure we understand it. And after the shooting is done, we’ll go back to volunteering our hours to see it through. By the end, we plan to have several different cuts for educational, broadcast and social media purposes. We just need to get there.
So the money we need to raise would go to gas and food, and any surprises the road throws us. From May 2 to May 5 we will be covering a lot of miles, from Marquette to Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo to Lansing to Flint and back. At least. All we need is enough money to break even. We realize this is short notice, but we also know that any little bit helps us get there.
We’ve been working hard for months already, and now it’s go time. We will be so, so thankful to each and every dollar put toward this project. We promise it will not be spent in vain. Trust us, if you haven’t heard about the Dark Stores yet, you will in a few years.
So please help us reach this goal. For how much ground we’ll be covering in a short amount of time, we feel this is a modest amount to make sure we are fed and gassed up.
Again, any and all is beyond appreciated.
Here’s an article that explains the issue better than we could in a few paragraphs:” http://bridgemi.com/2015/08/lawmakers-seek-a-halt-to-dark-stores-tax-cutting-strategy/
If 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:
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:
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.
In his Word on the Street blog this week [12-12-15], Brian Cabell reports that MI Representative John Kivela “…noticed a remarkable and encouraging change in attitude in Lansing on the ‘dark store’ issue. Legislators who had previously dismissed the issue are now acknowledging there might be a problem. The Municipal League and realtors, and even the Chamber of Commerce have testified before the Tax Policy Committee in the last few days conceding that something might have to be done.” Kivela’s cautionary forecast is that new “…bill or bills [will be] introduced in the legislature by spring, with bipartisan support, and possibly passage by summer.” Here’s some of what has happened this past week in Lansing…
The Marquette Mining Journal also reported [12-11-15] on the Tax Policy Progress that took place during a second hearing focusing on the ‘dark store’ rulings at the Tax Policy Committee of the Michigan House Wednesday [12-9-15]. Progress was made toward finding a solution, said David Maturen, a Republican state representative serving the 63rd District and majority vice-chairman of the committee.
“We’re trying to find some common ground to get us back to what I perceive is a correct approach in valuing property,” he said. “We just want a level playing field for not only assessors, but also property owners.” Representative Maturen is heading up a work group to do just this. See his recent interview with Battle Creek station WBCK.
Marquette County Commissioner Joe Derocha presented the committee with 2,000 signatures from concerned citizens supporting a legislative fix. [thanks to all who signed the recent Move On.org petition sponsored by Marquette County Citizens for Fair Share]
Many others from Counties across Michigan spoke at the hearing, as well, and noted the budget shortfalls felt across the board. Van Buren County speakers testified that MI Tax Tribunal rulings resulted in %50 of Market Value for their ‘big box’ stores, while the same stores in neighboring Wisconsin are holding at full Market Value. This is causing revenue losses of almost $1M. Van Buren ISD Superintendent spoke to these losses as greatly affecting students, especially in the area of Special Education, those most in need of services. “Every $1M lost in valuation equates to $3,332 in lost special education revenue…In addition, through the process of litigation for two large companies…the price tag is not cheap.”
An attorney and an assessor from Troy argued that the ‘dark store’ basis for Tax Tribunal rulings are not closely in compliance with “Michigan’s definition of ‘true cash value’ as contained in the Michigan General Property Tax Act…”
To view/download actual transcripts of these and more hearing testimonies. Click the Testimony drop-down link on the House Tax Policy Committee.
Representative David Maturen speaks more on the ‘dark store’ issue on a recent radio interview:
“63rd State Rep. Dave Maturen has been charged with looking into the issue to see what changes the state might propose to the system. It’s a complicated issue. Businesses pay property tax based on the cost paid to buy land and build a facility. But many are convincing the Tax Tribunal in Lansing to reduce it, based on the value of an empty, abandoned store.”
Find out: What are ‘Dark Store’ tax rulings? How do they happen? Why do they happen? What is the Tax Tribunal? — and other crucial How’s and Why’s. This excellent interview clarifies a complicated issue with authoritative intelligence.
NOTE: Mr Maturen is currently the vice-chairman of the MI House Tax Policy Committee. Please contact him to express your concerns and possible experiences of the effects of these cuts in your communities: David Maturen firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 517-373-1787
or the House tax Policy Committee Clerk’s Office Ph: 517.373.0135 Clerk@house.mi.gov
Rep. Maturen joined WBCK’s Tim Collins on the Richard Piet Show in Battle Creek on November 30, 2015 1:21 PM. [WBCK]