MARQUETTE — The Peter White Public Library is no longer open on Sundays and that could just be the start of the cuts to come for library director Pam Christensen. Big Box or Dark Stores as they are called, are appealing their property tax assessments to the Michigan Tax Tribunal and they’re winning.

“I think that it’s effecting many communities in Michigan,” said Pam Christensen about the decisions by the MTT. “If you look at the number of big box stores, Lowes, Home Depot, and Targets throughout the state, if each one of them does that, it effects the state government and all of the units of local government.”

The Tax Tribunal assesses these buildings as if they are dark and vacant buildings, hence the ‘Dark Store’ reference.

“The legal loopholes that we are talking about are exactly that, legal,” said Marquette Township Supervisor Dennis Liimatta. “It’s not illegal what the big box stores are using, but our concerns are that the impact is drastic across the state of Michigan. It’s state education, it’s operations of fire and police and so many things.”

The Tax Tribunal’s rulings mean that several government services and entities could soon have to repay more than $1.2 million to 12 big box stores. Marquette Township and Breitung Township both found out last week that their appeals of the Tax Tribunal’s decisions to the Michigan Supreme wouldn’t be heard. Now, local government agencies and entities are turning to Lansing for help.

“We’ve got to get legislation in place that not only fixes it going forward, but also addresses those stores that have already stipulated to a lower tax value. Because of the amendment, once they’re down, they won’t be coming back up,” added Liimatta.

State Representative John Kivela said that this issue has been the most frustrating thing he’s dealt with since he arrived in Lansing two and half years ago. Along with State Senator Tom Casperson, both parties have drawn up legislation that would close these tax loopholes and make determining property assessments, true cash value, and taxable value a more level playing field.

“We’re confident that we have a package of bills coming out shortly that we can work with,” said Kivela. “Our goal is to introduce a package that we know and were confident we know it’s constitutional and we can get it through to fix this. I feel that we have one big bite left of the apple to try and fix this and we want to make sure that it’s right.”

Kivela believes that the legislation is four two six weeks away from being introduced in the house and in the senate. That’s when Kivela says the public needs to setup up and make their voices heard.

“When it comes time to have the legislation introduced, we’re going to ask them to start reaching out to key people downstate that we need to convince to get these bills passed,” said Kivela. “We have a lot of people contacting myself and Senator Casperson. We’re already on your side. We need to get to the people that can really make a difference.”