JANESVILLE, Wis. — Retailers Sears, Target, Blain Supply and Menards are accusing the city of Janesville of overcharging them on their property taxes.
The stores have filed separate lawsuits in the last month seeking refunds totaling $419,000, with the largest being $217,000 sought by Menards, according to The Janesville Gazette (http://bit.ly/1kdml51 ). They argue their 2013 city assessments are higher than the companies' own assessment.
The city's outside counsel that handles property assessment lawsuits reports there are 200 or 300 such tax disputes active statewide, with a growing number coming from big retailers, according to city assessor Richard Haviza.
Twenty-two percent of Janesville's active property assessment lawsuits are now tied to assessments of large retailers. The city had 20 such suits land in the courts in the last three years, according to city assessor records. There are 24,000 properties in Janesville.
The sudden blip of four large retailers suing at once can be attributed to statutory time limits on tax disputes.
Haviza said Menards has had suits over assessments in several other communities in Wisconsin in the past few years. Since 2011, Target Corporation has had 10 property tax disputes against communities across Wisconsin, according to Wisconsin's Circuit Court Access website.
Don Millis, an attorney for the firm that brought lawsuits for Sears, Blain Supply and Target, said his firm analyzes real estate and business market trends to arrive at assessment estimates for clients, and if it spots assessments that appear out of line, it advises companies to consider contesting them.
"We're doing the same thing as the assessors, we just don't see it the same way," he said.
Millis said the current trend in some markets is that there is more available retail real estate and less demand for it, which could affect fair market property value calculations. At the same time, he said larger retailers are under the gun with lingering market pressures held over from the recession, including large inventory and decreased demand.
Millis indicated that could be a reason why more retailers are involved in property tax disputes, although he said his firm is not given and does not analyze information from clients on local or regional store performance.