Measure would help municipalities tackle the “dark store theory” issue

House advances Matlack bill to protect property tax payers

Wed, 03/09/2022 - 8:00pm

AUGUSTA — The Maine House of Representatives gave initial approval Wednesday to a bill from Rep. Ann Matlack, D-St. George, which will clarify state law for municipal assessors and property owners and improve the fairness of valuations across the state.

In Maine, municipal assessors are responsible for determining the value of properties to base property taxes on, and property owners have the right to appeal the determined value.

In recent years, some large corporations have begun using this appeal process to advocate for property values that are significantly less than municipalities have determined their value to be.

Referred to as the “dark store” theory, big box retailers appeal their assessed property value based on comparisons with stores that have closed and sold for much less than their previous value.

RELATED STORY: ‘Dark store’ theory: Large retailers push to cut millions in property taxes

“Large corporations are taking their newly built properties and comparing their value to closed down and abandoned stores,” said Matlack. “This puts hundreds of thousands of property tax dollars at stake. These big box stores want the benefits of municipal services- police and fire protection, for example- while shifting their share of the cost onto the rest of property tax payers.”

Written in consultation with Maine assessors, LD 1129 would give Maine municipalities the ability to clarify what makes a similar property comparable.

“It is important legislation that addresses a very urgent need,” said David Martucci, assessor for the Town for Thomaston, in his written testimony to the Taxation Committee. “Indeed, if something like this bill was already enacted into law, the Town of Thomaston would not be facing four years of abatement requests totaling nearly three-quarters of a million dollars that has been stalled at the State Board of Property Tax Review now for more than a year.”

The bill faces further votes in both the House and Senate.

Matlack is serving her second term in the Maine House and represents the communities of Cushing, Thomaston, South Thomaston, St. George, Matinicus, Criehaven and the Muscle Ridge Islands. She serves as House chair of the State and Local Government Committee and as a member of the Taxation Committee.