City may go to court over Dark Store dispute
By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD – The city of Marshfield may go to court over a dispute with Menards regarding an attempt to reduce property assessments at their Marshfield store.
The dispute is based on the “Dark Story” theory which reasons that if there is a vacant store at another location that has gotten a reduction in value, that is what they want as a comparable to the operating store in Marshfield.
City Administrator Steve Barg said that during a Nov. 7 conference, he discussed the matter with Menards representatives and their legal counsel, along with the city’s contract assessor, Grota Appraisals, and the city’s legal representation.
“It’s not Hap Wolfgram; it’s an attorney through our insurance agent who does this kind of thing,” Barg explained.
“We talked for three hours back and forth. There was down time where they were conferencing without us and vice versa. But, they believe that the value of (the Marshfield) facility should be reduced by roughly 20 percent of what we have it assessed at. Our assessor and I, in talking with him, and seeing some other data suggests that is unwarranted. That if there is going to be a reduction; that it should be considerably less than that.”
With negotiations stalled, Barg said that there is a possibility that the matter will go to court.
“What I am hearing from the League of Wisconsin Municipalities is that cities have actually gone all of the way to court action and gone into trials, if you will, with some of these big boxes,” he said. “Cities have done fairly well in general – that’s a broad brush statement. They haven’t all won, but cities have done fairly well.”
Barg said that while the city does not want to go to court, the council feels that the city’s stand is well-reasoned.
“At this point the council feels comfortable that we are not in a bad place that a reduction the size that Menard’s is asking for is simply not warranted, and we are not going to bend to that,” Barg said.
He added that what develops from the discussions with Menards might set the precedence for other big box stores that may follow in similar action.
“We have another one coming right behind. Walmart has filed as well, but there have been a lot of rumors of other companies – Fleet Farm, Target, whoever – that are watching this…,” he said.
“I think that it is imperative that we do the best job we can for the citizens of Marshfield. This whole issue is about ultimately shifting property tax burden from commercial to residential customers.”
“It’s one thing if you have a business that is not doing well and needs a little help, but they are a thriving business,” Mayor Bob McManus said. “What they wanted to do is basically compare their building to another building that is vacant.”
The city will continue in negotiations with Menards.