Voters in Rock and Walworth counties overwhelmingly passed advisory referendums calling for an end to the dark store legal theory.

The referendums passed with more than 70 percent support in both counties.

The dark store referendums gauged voter interest on whether the state should enact legislation to end so-called dark store lawsuits. The lawsuits typically use vacant or “dark” buildings to secure lower property valuations and get lower tax bills.

Rock County Board Chairman Russ Podzilni said he was not really surprised by the wide margin of victory. Personally, he was “absolutely” in favor of enacting legislation to end dark store lawsuits.

Big-box stores often file dark store lawsuits against municipalities because they believe their buildings have overinflated value. They believe vacant and occupied stores should be assessed based on the building itself, not the income potential of a functioning business.

Municipalities typically cannot afford the legal fees to fight the lawsuits and usually settle the case. Critics of dark store lawsuits say this passes costs to taxpayers because the community has to meet a fixed tax levy to support its budget.

Walworth County Board Vice Chairman Jerry Grant was happy to see his county’s voters pass the referendum by a wide margin. He emphasized it was his opinion and that he didn’t speak for the full board.

“The more you can get the big stores or the big industries, the more you can get them to pay their share, then that person who owns an individual house, it’s gonna help that person,” he said. “I suspect that’s why the big difference. They would like the big stores to pay their share.”

Several other communities in Wisconsin with dark store referendums also supported new legislation by a wide margin.

Grant and Podzilni said the counties would share the results with the state and the Wisconsin Counties Association, a lobbying group.

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