ELLSWORTH — An abatement appeal by Walmart, which seeks to reduce its 2021 property tax valuation from about $20 million to about $10 million, was tabled by the Board of Appeals Sept. 13 in order to determine whether the city can order Walmart to hand over three years of sales information. City Assessor Larry Gardner had made the request to help determine his assessment, which uses, in part, an income-based approach.
Bruce Stavitsky, representing Walmart, held that gross sales figures were confidential business information.
“That’s proprietary, how much value [the store] generates,” he said. “And it does not relate to the value of real estate at all.”
That is where Walmart and Gardner differ in their approaches. Walmart uses the “dark store” assessment method, which bases the value of the real estate on its market value if the store was closed.
But Gardner said the sales figures are important in order to calculate sales per square foot, noting, “If total sales of goods are much weaker than in previous years — especially if sales are showing a trend downward — it may indicate the store is no longer successful and the owner is considering a change in location, closing the store, selling the property as a dark store. If that was the case, I’d be assessing the property as a dark store.”
Walmart currently is appealing with the State Board of Property Tax Review the city’s denial of a similar 2017 abatement request using the same “dark store” approach.
In other business, the local board denied a variance request from the owner of a Branch Lake camp after Board of Appeals Chairman Jeffrey Toothaker said the request did not meet the variance criteria. Property owner John T. Wilson sought to reduce the required 25-foot side setback to 6 feet to build a 1,500-square-foot camp.
The current camp, located near the shore, is only 400 square feet, which Wilson said was not large enough for his family, retirement and investment needs.
However, the narrow 100-by-200-foot lot, the 75-foot setback from the shoreline and the presence of wetlands in a portion of the lot are posing difficulties for Wilson in placing new and larger construction.
“There’s plenty of room to build here, it’s just not the ideal configuration you want,” Toothaker held, noting any hardship had been imposed by Wilson, himself, for wanting to rebuild the camp. “And I understand why,” Toothaker added.
But with at least one of Wilson’s neighbors at the meeting to object to the variance request, and board member Steven Shea noting a “fair economic return,” if not a profit, on the property without granting the variance, the board voted to deny the request.
“Typically, when people don’t complain, we grant [variances] all the time,” Toothaker concluded. “But we’ve got a legitimate complaint [and] the criteria we’ve asked you to talk about, you have not met … There’s nothing unique about this property, it’s a typical lakefront lot.”