It’s probably unintentional, but a story on public radio’s website gets a big box retail appraisal controversy completely backwards. Even the headline is misleading. It reads “Big Box Stores Say Kansas Property Taxes Should Be Based on Vacant Building Value.”

Under Kansas law, properties are to be valued at fair market value, or what they would sell for on the open market. It doesn’t matter what’s inside the building–whether vacant or filled with merchandise.

Kansas Chamber President Alan Cobb explained it this way a column for the Kansas City Star: “Imagine if the appraiser assessed the value of your home based on your income rather than the fair market value of your home.”

Johnson County is ground zero in “dark store theory” controversy, an ongoing legal and legislative debate about how commercial real estate is assessed.

Almost every big box retailer in Johnson County is appealing their recent valuations. They’re asking that their buildings be valued the way the law requires.

The proponents of so-called “dark story theory” pretend that businesses are seeking special favors in requesting their properties be fairly appraised, and the public radio station’s story on the topic does little to dispel the myth.

It’s only in recent years that county appraisers, in particular in Johnson County, began valuing big box retail properties by including the value of sales occurring in a particular store in addition to the value of the property itself.

The KCUR story, however, allows Johnson County appraiser Paul Welcome to describe it. He tells the taxpayer-funded news outlet that big box stores are trying to have their stores valued as if they are empty or vacant store fronts. That descriptor, now being tossed around regularly by big government types and Welcome, conjures visions of assessors valuing booming retail stores as boarded up, dilapidated and decaying buildings.

Coincidentally, the current appraisal system kicked into high gear about the same time legislators adopted a property tax lid that limits how much county commissions can increase property tax rates without seeking voter approval.

Cobb writes county leaders should be honest about what they’re really doing in opposing dark store theory, or the way valuations used to be done.

“Rather than asking for voter approval to increase taxes, they are attempting to increase tax revenue through unsubstantiated valuation increases on businesses so county spending can increase,” he writes.

There’s enough misinformation and fear mongering about dark store theory without taxpayer-funded media piling on.

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