Marquette Township big box store taxation headed for appeal

Marquette Township’s ongoing issue with the Michigan Tax Tribunal’s recent decision regarding the taxation of the Lowe’s commercial property was at the forefront of Tuesday night’s Marquette County Board of Commissioners Meeting.

It all started last November, when Lowe’s Marquette Township branch appealed its property tax assessments for 2010, 2011, and 2012 to the Michigan Tax Tribunal. Judge Victoria Enyart ruled in favor of Lowe’s, dropping the store’s cash value from $10.4 to $3.5 million using the vacancy precedent set in a Southeastern Michigan Target case.

“Basically, what they were saying was that there should be valued as if it’s a dark and vacant, blighted property. Therefore, it should only be valued for tax purposes as that because they use, for comparables, some stores in Southeast Michigan that were indeed dark and vacant,” said Dennis Liimatta, the Marquette Township Supervisor. “They weren’t worth anywhere near what operating Lowe’s would be, which is no surprise to anybody. But, our argument is, the highest and best-use of a Lowe’s is as Lowe’s. Since it’s a profitable and operating store, why would it be valued as if it’s not?”

Since then, a number of big box businesses have taken a similar route to have their property taxes reevaluated and effectively lowered. The Lowe’s reimbursement alone has cost Marquette Township close to half a million dollars, in addition to the 200 thousand dollars in legal fees spent to challenge the Tax Tribunal.

“So, if you look at the impact for Marquette County, it’s $642,000 annually. It’s not like you can raise the value back up. Proposal A will not allow us to do that. Once a tax value has been set down lower, it remains that way other than the rate of inflation or tax multipliers that are determined by the State of Michigan. What that means is that $642,000 annually, each and every year. That impacts things like not only Township operating funds or our ability to pay for fire prevention and protection, but the County’s operating funds, library mileage, Iron Ore Heritage Trail, school funding. It has a huge impact not only on our county. This isn’t a local issue. This is a statue-wide issue. But, Marquette Township felt we had the best case, perhaps, best argument and that’s why we’ve taken it all the way to the Court of Appeals,” Liimatta added.

Marquette Township made a plea to the County Board, seeking external financial support. The board approved a motion to review the matter and look into providing monetary assistance as the case moves forward through the Court of Appeals process.