“Dark Store” study committee postpones final votes, but adds provisions affecting schools

Yesterday (Dec. 11), the Legislative Council Study Committee on Property Tax Assessment Practices met to discuss three bill drafts making changes to the property tax assessment process, none of which would close the so-called “dark store” or “Walgreens” tax loopholes.

Although Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), the study committee’s chair, had hoped yesterday’s meeting would be the study committee’s final meeting, study committee members raised many questions and proposed several amendments to each bill draft.

One bill draft considered yesterday —LRB 0485/1—directly concerns school boards.

It would create a process for a board member from each of the other underlying taxing jurisdictions (i.e., the school district, county and technical college district) to meet with the taxing district (i.e., the city, village or town) as a “joint board of assessment.”  (This proposal was described in a previous post.)

That joint board could then–by majority vote of the four-person board–agree to share in the costs of hiring expert help with assessing particular parcels and/or agree to share in the costs of defending any legal challenges to those assessments.  If the other taxing jurisdictions decline (by majority vote) to share in the costs, the taxing district (city, village or town) could still proceed with assessing the property and defending against a challenge to the assessment as it can under current law.

In a bit of a surprise move, the study committee agreed to have an amendment drafted to LRB 0485/1 to require all taxing jurisdictions (including schools) to share in the cost of paying interest owed on property taxes ordered refunded or rescinded due to a successful challenge to an assessment.  Currently, the municipality (i.e., the city, village or town) that conducted the assessment is solely responsible for paying the interest on any property taxes ordered to be refunded.

The committee also agreed to draft an amendment at the request of a representative of business groups that oppose the “dark store” and “Walgreen’s” bills that would provide that no underlying taxing jurisdiction (i.e., no school district, county or technical college district) could become a party to litigation challenging an assessment notwithstanding that they have agreed to share in the cost of defending the assessment and clearly have a financial interest in the outcome of the assessment challenge. That financial interest would become bigger if interest costs are added to the tab.

The study committee’s discussion may prompt the WASB may seek a change to current law, which states that the state Department of Revenue has until Nov. 15 to determine the amount of rescinded or refunded taxes to be charged back to, and collected from each taxing jurisdiction.  Because school districts are required to certify their property tax levy each year by Nov. 10, this determination occurs too late for school districts to adjust their levy, yet, schools are required to pay the taxing district the amount to be charged back to the by the following Feb. 15.  Current law suggests schools must pay these costs in the current budget year but may have to wait a full year before they can levy to recoup that money.