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Georgia-Pacific wants to cut taxes on its 2 Green Bay, Wisconsin mills

GREEN BAY, Wisconsin (From news reports) -- Georgia-Pacific wants to slash by nearly half the amount of property taxes it pays on the company's two paper mills in Green Bay, a move that would bump up taxes on homeowners and other businesses.

The company earlier this year asked the state to reduce the assessed value of its Broadway and Day Street mills by $34.8 million.

The decrease would amount to a 46 percent drop in assessed value of the Broadway mill, while the value of the Day Street mill would go down by 43 percent.

The reduced assessments would cut nearly $800,000 from Georgia-Pacific's 2016 property tax bill, which was $1.7 million for the two mills combined, and by the same margin for future years.

Local governments and schools would not see a change in the amount of property tax they collect, but homeowners and others in Brown County would pay more to cover the difference, according to Dale Knapp, research director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

"What the successful challenge does, it then shifts the burden to other taxpayers," Knapp said.

The owner of a $150,000 home in Green Bay would pay nearly $19 more in city, school and county property taxes if Georgia-Pacific gets its way.

Georgia-Pacific's mills in Green Bay produce napkins, paper towels and bath tissue. The company is a subsidiary of Koch Industries, which is owned by brothers Charles and David Koch, prominent contributors to conservative and libertarian causes.

A private appraiser paid by the company estimated the mills' values primarily by comparing the facilities to other manufacturing properties that have been sold in Wisconsin and other states, public records show.

Georgia-Pacific spokesman Kelly Ferguson said the appraisals show the mills are worth less than what the state asserts.

"Like any property owner or business, we believe that the assessment is too high, especially based on depreciation over a number of years," Ferguson said. "We believe the property value is lower than the assessed value."

The state Department of Revenue assesses the taxable value of manufacturing properties, including paper mills, every year.

Georgia-Pacific is not alone in its efforts to lower its taxes. Within the last two years, Enzymatic Therapy LLC of Green Bay was able to drop the assessed value of a manufacturing facility by more than $1.6 million, or nearly 22 percent, public records show. Green Bay Packaging, Inc. also reduced its assessed value in 2015 by $835,000, or roughly 32 percent.

Retailers and other businesses are taking similar action, arguing that their stores should be valued the same as vacant commercial properties under the so-called "dark store theory." Just this year, Menards, Walmart, Huntington Bank, Bank Mutual, Shopko and Woodman's have sued to lower their property taxes in Brown County.

The city of Green Bay has taken legal action to formally oppose Georgia-Pacific's reassessment, but publicly, officials are treading lightly so as not to aggravate relations with the company. Georgia-Pacific has about 2,300 workers in Green Bay, making it one of the city's largest employers.

"The city believes that our current assessments are fair," said Celestine Jeffreys, chief of staff to Mayor Jim Schmitt. "However, we will abide by the state's determination, if different. We value, and will continue to value, Georgia-Pacific as a community partner."

The Green Bay Area Public School District also contends that the present valuations of the mills are accurate, according to district spokeswoman Lori Blakeslee, who said the city is representing the school district's interest in the tax appeal.

Georgia-Pacific has long contributed to Green Bay schools, sponsoring a manufacturing learning lab and donating money for teacher scholarships.

Still, the school district's chief financial officer,John Kasha, is concerned the proposed change would harm both taxpayers and students.

"The district values our partnership with Georgia-Pacific, who has been a great supporter of our students and teachers," Kasha said in a statement. "However, we have a fiduciary responsibility to our taxpayers since this could potentially shift the tax burden."

The state Tax Appeals Commission is reviewing the company's reassessment request.


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