FULTON COUNTY -- Fulton County has agreed to help the city of Johnstown defend itself against a property tax assessment challenge on one building and two other parcels in the Johnstown Industrial Park -- all owned by Walmart Inc.
Walmart wants to reduce the assessed value, for tax purposes, of its main distribution plant at 300 Enterprise Road from $39.5 million to $15.4 million. The retail giant also wants to reduce the assessed value of a parcel of land on Venture Drive from $369,500 to $144,000, and is moving to have the assessed value of a second parcel on Enterprise Road lowered from $319,700 to $144,000.
"Those are pretty sizable reductions that would have a pretty big impact on the total assessed value for the county, the city and the school district," said Fulton County Administrator Jon Stead. "Fulton County has had a standing policy that we've had for several years, that we will sometimes go in and work with local municipalities that are the actual assessing units, in this case the city, and offer legal assistance and actually financial assistance."
Johnstown Treasurer Mike Gifford said that, if Walmart is successful in getting the assessments lowered by the amounts sought, it would blow a more-than $300,000 hole in the city's annual property tax levy. The tax levy -- the amount of revenue raised by property taxes -- is currently at $5.67 million.
"For a budget our size, a loss like that would be catastrophic," Gifford said.
The total assessed value of the Walmart Distribution Plant on 300 Enterprise Road has fluctuated in recent years. In 2013, Fulton County assessed the property for $35.7 million, with an equalization rate of 70 percent and a fair market value assessment of $51 million.
After a successful property tax assessment challenge by Walmart in 2014, the assessment was lowered to $24.5 million, with an equalization rate of 73 percent and a fair market value of $33.5 million.
Another tax revaluation in the city of Johnstown in 2015 bumped Walmart's property tax assessment back up to $39.5 million, equal to its fair market value.
Three years of taxes paid by Walmart to the county and city equate to:
- 2016 -- city $448,720, county $334,960
- 2017 -- city $489,405, county $329,825
- 2018 -- city $498,885, county $342,860.
Fulton County Treasurer Terry Blodgett said it has been Fulton County's policy since 2013 to help municipalities, on a case-by-case basis, with property tax assessment challenges on properties assessed for more than $500,000. He said that, in some cases of town property where the tax rate may be low, the revenue at stake for the town could be hundreds of dollars, but the county could stand to lose thousands from tax assessment reductions.
He said the county only commits to assisting with the cost of the defense in proportion to how much revenue the county could lose. He said there have been about five tax assessment challenges Fulton County has assisted with since 2013.
"I think this is the largest reduction I've seen," Blodgett said. "I believe Walmart has a policy of doing this every three years or so; that's what I've heard and been told by other places where they've done this."