Wal-Mart files suit to slash property assessments in half
JOHNSTOWN Wal-Mart, owner through its business trust of a retail store in the town of Johnstown and the giant 157,000-square-foot distribution center in the city of Johnstown, has filed suit in State Supreme Court to try to chop its assessments by more than half.
The suits, filed by the Buffalo law firm of Kavinoky Cook, seeks to reduce the distribution center assessment from $35.6 million to $15.9 million and the store assessment from $5.5 million to $2.3 million.
If fully victorious in the actions, Wal-Mart will be saving plenty in local taxes.
“It’s huge money,” said Johnstown City Treasurer Michael Gifford, who noted Wal-Mart is in the final year of its 10-year sliding-scale property tax exemption on the distribution center. In the spring of 2012, its city taxes would be about $600,000, Gifford calculated. A victory in court on the assessment would cut the city tax bill to under $300,000.
Similarly, Wal-Mart would pay taxes this fall in the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District of about $800,000 and Fulton County taxes due in January would be near $400,000.
On the store, located just outside Gloversville in the town of Johnstown, a victory for Wal-Mart would drop the Gloversville School District tax bill from about $151,000 to under $70,000. The store currently pays a combined county/town/fire district tax bill of about $77,000 a year.
“I think it’s accurate,” Town Assessor Katherine Hillock said of the store assessment. “Cutting it in half, it’s absolutely crazy,” she said of the goal of the lawsuit.
Hillock said the store assessment was challenged six years ago in Supreme Court, which reduced the assessment from $6 million to $5.5 million.
The suit was filed this year after Wal-Mart lost its bid for a reduction this spring at town grievance day.
In his court papers, Wal-Mart lawyer Wayne D. Wisbaum argues the Wal-Mart assessments are unequal with assessments on other properties within the respective municipalities. Wisbaum contends the Wal-Mart assessments are higher proportionately than other assessments and that “such inequality exists not only in specific instances but generally throughout the assessment rolls.”
In a telephone interview, Wisbaum said the values listed in the lawsuit are Wal-Mart’s “best view of what we believe ... I don’t think we’re far off.”
Speaking specifically of the distribution center, Wisbaum said there are few buildings that size, a factor that will compel comparisons with similar facilities in other states.
Independent appraisals will be submitted to the court, he said.
“The bottom line is we want to pay our fair share of taxes and be good corporate citizens, but we don’t want to pay more than our fair share.”
Often, Wisbaum said, settlements are reached before assessment challenges proceed to trial.
Wal-Mart, he said, may be willing to “take a half loaf rather than a full loaf to resolve the matter amicably.”