Close unfair big box tax loophole

South Bend Tribune

Local elected officials have vowed to continue their fight against big box stores using a loophole in tax laws to dramatically lower their tax bills.

They should. What the box stores are doing now amounts to an unfair fight that will mean millions less in tax revenues for local governments already preparing to take a hit from state-mandated circuit breaker property tax reforms.

Recently the Indiana Tax Review Board held that a Kokomo Kohl’s store could include property values of nearby vacant store buildings, called “dark sales,” when figuring the assessed value that determined their property tax. Howard County had argued that only occupied store values should be factored into the calculations.

South Bend, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County are siding with Howard County, arguing stores that don’t pay their fair share of property taxes will force other individuals and small businesses to pay more.

Several commercial properties, including Meijer, Kohl’s, Lowe’s, Target and CVS stores are appealing their assessments in St. Joseph County, putting more than $17 million in property tax revenue in jeopardy.

The Indiana General Assembly passed a bill this year — and the governor signed it — to stop retailers from using dark stores in reassessments. But the measure only applies to appeals in the future, not the ones that already have been filed.

The permanent solution to this issue needs to come from legislators, who must make the law absolutely clear and fair to all taxpayers. Big box stores shouldn’t be allowed to evade large parts of their taxpaying responsibility and leave already cash-strapped communities holding the bag.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.