ELLSWORTH — A Walmart tax abatement appeal was continued until April by the Board of Appeals on Jan. 24 after the megastore’s attorney, Bruce Stavitsky, and City Assessor Larry Gardner agreed on the details of the data Walmart will release to the city.
Stavitsky noted that Walmart is interested in a settlement offer for 2021, telling the board, “We’d love to see if we could resolve these issues with you.”
Walmart appealed its 2021 tax bill last year but in September of 2021 refused to release sales and lease data that Gardner had requested.
At the same time, an appeal of its 2017 taxes, which the city partially abated but not by as much as Walmart requested, is stalled at the State Board of Property Tax Review. That board, Gardner said, is “basically not existent at this time … It’s just a mess.”
Walmart seeks to cut the assessed value of the Ellsworth store from $20.1 million to $10 million. At stake is as much as $180,000 in property tax for 2017 and each year forward, if the state appeal is successful, as the new assessment would be retroactive to fiscal year 2017.
In December, the board approved Gardner’s request that Walmart provide sales data and lease information for other stores. This week, members approved the specific parameters. Walmart must provide five years of gross sales figures for the Ellsworth store and leases for over 50 New England Walmarts that are rented, not owned outright by the company.
The Ellsworth store is leased to Walmart by Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust, which filed appeals for 2017 taxes in at least eight Maine communities, pitting its corporate legal team against small-town officials and their attorneys.
Gardner had asked for lease information from nearly 700 Northeastern stores, but the board found that unreasonable, given that stores in high-rent states like New York and New Jersey are not comparable to the Ellsworth location.
“It strikes me that’s a pretty good figure for Larry to work with,” board Chairman Jeffrey Toothaker said prior to the unanimous vote.
City attorney Ed Bearor advised on legal points during the meeting, in particular on keeping proprietary financial information confidential.
Future board discussion on this information will be held in executive session, Toothaker said.
“It’s going to be part of the record, but sealed,” he said.
Gardner noted that Walgreens, which is also represented by Stavitsky, has filed an abatement request for its 2021 taxes. That matter will also be heard in April.