Saratoga County

Wilton wins 2 assessment challenges

The town has scored victories in two property assessment court challenges, saving the town and tw

PHOTOGRAPHER:

The town has scored victories in two property assessment court challenges, saving the town and two school districts significant amounts of tax revenue.

The Wal-Mart store on Old Gick Road in Wilton took the town to court over its assessments for 2006 and 2007.

And the sprawling Ace Hardware distribution center at Ballard and Northern Pines Road also challenged its assessments for the 2003 and 2004 years.

Decisions on both cases were made recently in state Supreme Court in Ballston Spa.

Wilton Town Assessor Marjorie Little had assessed the busy Wal-Mart super store at $16.1 million for 2006 and 2007 but the Arkansas-based company wanted its assessment reduced to $9 million, full market value.

Attorney Daniel G. Vincelette of Albany, who represented the town in state Supreme Court on both cases, said Wal-Mart was forced to negotiate a settlement rather than go to trial because of appraisal errors.

The settlement was an assessment of $21 million for 2008, an increase of $4 million from the town’s earlier assessment.

“We are very pleased with the outcome,” said Little.

The Saratoga Springs City School District is also pleased because the Wal-Mart is located in that district.

“It’s a significant amount of money,” said Kurt Jaeger, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, when asked about tax revenue associated with such an assessment victory. Reached at home, Jaeger said he didn’t have the exact dollar amount the district would have had to return if the courts had ruled against the town.

“Wilton does a good job,” Jaeger said on Thursday.

“It’s important that there is a balance,” he said. “Commercial [properties] should pay their proper share, not more, not less.”

Little noted that Wilton has no town taxes so the real winner in such assessment cases is the school districts and, of course, property owners in Wilton who pay school taxes.

The city school district shares appraisal costs with Wilton because they understand the importance of fair and equitable property assessments to the district, Jaeger said.

Turning to the Ace Hardware distribution center case, state Supreme Court Justice Stephen A. Ferradino issued a 26-page decision earlier this month, saying the town’s full value assessment of the 798,640 square-foot distribution center at $36 million in 2003 and $37 million in 2004 “is more reasonable and credible” than Ace’s requested 2003 valuation of $23.6 million and 2004 valuation of $23.8 million.

The decision details the size and condition of the distribution center, which was built in 1997. The center, which is located in the South Glens Falls Central School District, was covered by a payment in lieu of taxes for some years. The first five years of the PILOT allowed the company to pay taxes on just the unimproved 130-acres of property at Ballard and Northern Pines Road.

As the 10-year PILOT came to an end the Ace Hardware officials decided to challenge their assessment, according to town officials.

Town Supervisor Arthur Johnson said he is very pleased with the outcome of both cases.

Vincelette, who specializes in assessment cases, said he credits supervisor Johnson, the Town Board, and assessor Little for defending their assessments.

“They are not willing to agree to an unrealistically low number,” Vincelette said. Instead, the town agrees to fight such a number in court and go to trial.

Little said it costs the town between $30,000 and $40,000 to defend the challenges in court. A portion of this cost is to hire Barry Herbold of Empire State Appraisal Consultants to appraise the property in question using a variety of appraisal methods.

Ferradino said in the case of Ace Hardware, the town’s appraisal was “more reasonable and credible” than the one offered by Ace.

However, Vincelette said Ace still has the opportunity to appeal Ferradino’s decision.

The court has to serve the signed judgment on Ace and then their attorneys, Gates & Adams of Rochester, have 35 days to file an appeal, Vincelette said. He said Ace may not yet have received the formal judgement papers.

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