Walmart adds $1.75 million to growing Lansing Township debt

LANSING, Michigan – It’s no secret that Lansing Township has been struggling financially for years.

But now, on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars in debt they already have, the township has to pay about $1,750,000 to Walmart and Sam’s Club.

Alan Fox took over as Ingham County Treasurer in early April and although he works for the county, he quickly became the financial go-to for Lansing Township.

FOX 47 contacted Lansing Twp. Clerk Maggie Sanders for more information on this, but did not hear back.

Regarding the new debt, Fox said: “Every time I discuss it, I have to pull out the spreadsheets and make sure I’m adding the right numbers to the right numbers to come up with that answer because it’s is so complicated.”

Fox helps the township with a mountain of debt plaguing them on all sides, but the most recent is Walmart and Sam’s Club debt.

According to documents from the Michigan State Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, in 2019 Walmart went to Michigan tax court and said their property had been assessed for more than it was worth.

Walmart asserted this using the “big box store theory” or “dark store theory”. Essentially, these theories say that when assessing the value of a big box store like Walmart, local governments should use the sales of closed big box stores as a basis for comparison.

“It’s controversial,” Fox said.

Controversial partly because big box stores build building types that aren’t easy to use as anything else and partly because many big box businesses won’t sell vacant stores to competitors. But in 2019, the Michigan Tax Tribunal agreed.

Lansing Township is now being told to “correct” past taxes to “reflect the true monetary and taxable value of the property.”

To do so, the township must 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 this and that “debts need to be paid. The question is, can the township find additional sources of revenue?”

So far, that answer is no.

The township simultaneously faces hundreds of millions of dollars in debt to The Heights at Eastwood, which the township funded in the early 2000s, and has been losing money ever since.

In order to understand Walmart’s debt, Fox said you also need to understand Eastwood’s debt.

“You have to watch everything. Solving one item becomes a kind of stealing from Peter to pay Paul,” Fox said.

There are years of financial paperwork to go, but Fox hopes to have strategies for the township to pay its debts next month.

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

“No matter what happens, the taxpayers of the township are responsible for the debt,” Fox said.

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