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Walmart adds $1.75 million to Lansing Township's growing mountain of debt

Posted at 12:09 PM, Apr 16, 2022

LANSING, Mich. — It's no secret that Lansing Township has been struggling financially for years.

But now, in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars of debt they already have, the Township is on the hook for about $1,750,000 to Walmart and Sam's Club.

Alan Fox took over as Ingham County Treasurer at the beginning of April and although he works for the county, he's quickly become the go-to for Lansing Township financial questions.

FOX 47 reached out to Lansing Twp. Clerk Maggie Sanders to get more information on this but did not hear back.

In regards to the new debt Fox said, "Every time I discuss this I have to pull out the spreadsheets and make sure that I'm adding the right numbers to the right numbers to come up with that answer because it's that complicated."

Fox is helping the Township with a mountain of debt coming at them from all sides, but the most recent is the Walmart and Sam's Club debt.

According to paperwork from the State of Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, in 2019 Walmart went to the Michigan Tax Tribunal and said their property had been assessed for more than it's worth.

Walmart claimed this using the "big box store theory," or "dark store theory." Essentially those theories say that when assessing the value of a big box store like Walmart, local governments should use the sales of shuttered big box stores as a basis for comparison.

"That's controversial," said Fox.

Controversial in part because big box stores build the sorts of buildings that aren't easy to use as something else and in part because many big box companies won't sell vacant stores to their competitors. But in 2019, the Michigan Tax Tribunal Agreed.

Now Lansing Township is being told to "correct" past taxes to "reflect the property's true cash and taxable values."

To do that, the Township needs to pay Walmart $1,750,000 in property assessment reductions dating back to 2016.

These refunds were due in the summer of 2021 and have not been paid.

Fox said the Township is working on it and, "the debts have to be paid. The question is, can the township find additional sources of revenue?"

So far, that answer is no.

The Township is simultaneously facing hundreds of millions of dollars in debt from The Heights at Eastwood which the Township funded in the early 2000's, and has been losing money from ever since.

In order to figure out the Walmart debt, Fox said you need to figure out the Eastwood debt as well.

"You have to look at it at all. Solving one piece of it becomes a robbing Peter to pay Paul sort of thing," Fox said.

There are years of financial documents to pour over, but Fox hopes to have some strategies for the Township to pay their debts in the next month.

In the meantime, he expects and fears other businesses will follow Walmart's lead and seek property assessment reductions as well.

"No matter what happens, the taxpayers of the township are on the hook for the debt," said Fox.

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Tianna Jenkins

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