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Walmart Tax Battle Continues – Houghton Council Report

There’s no resolution in sight in the property tax battle between the City of Houghton and Walmart…

“They rejected our counteroffer right out of hand, doubled down on their petition to the Tax Tribunal, they’re still looking to get their store evaluation off by about 40 percent.”

City Manager Eric Waara provided the city council with an update last night. Walmart is appealing its assessment under the controversial dark store concept – that the property should be evaluated as if it were empty, rather than if it’s in use…

“…which the State of Michigan is still allowing to be used as an argument and it’s a shame, because it doesn’t cost the State of Michigan anything, it costs local units of government a lot of money.”

Waara says other states have shut down that concept…

“… but, for whatever reason, the State of Michigan does not have the fortitude to deal with it like the other states have.”

The battle continues.

Also at last night’s meeting, Waara told councilors that the city is considering a cold-weather extension of its popular farmer’s market…

“We could possibly use half the Subway deck ‘indoors,’ so to speak, but not indoors.”

He said many of the vendors from the summer market still have wares to sell.

There will be a Ladies Night downtown promotion next month, and it will be expanded…  

“We’re actually calling it ‘Ladies Night 2.0,’ because they’re actually going to do it over two nights, 12:00 to 8:00 November 12th and 13th.”

Waara said the expanded hours will thin out the crowds at businesses where occupancy is limited because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Police Chief John Donnelly reminded residents that the winter overnight parking ban begins Sunday…  

“They not only need to be off the street, but they need to be off the street to the point where plows can have a place to push the snow.”

The ban applies to city streets, parking lots and decks…

“…pretty much anywhere snow can fall. We do sell permits for under the parking deck for people that live downtown.”

Donnelly also said two officers recently underwent special training to help them deal with autistic citizens…  

“We’re always taught to speak with authority to get people to do stuff, and it was showing a lot of cases where people with autism aren’t going to respond to that.”

Donnelly said the department’s training emphasis in the near future will be focused on addressing mental health issues, because they make up a large percentage of emergency calls…

“We want to make sure that we’re representing those citizens well – we’re sending well-trained officers.”

The Council authorized the purchase of some new snow removal equipment, and approved acceptance of a Community Development Block Grant. $253,000 from the state will help provide renovations to the building at 308 Shelden Avenue, which houses Downwind Sports, the Rukkila Accounting office, and four apartments.

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