Franklin County Assessor Tom Copeland says taxing entities could lose $215,000 in property tax revenue if an assessment appeal by the Walmart Corporation is successful.
He added even if the appeal isn’t successful, it will cost the county thousands of dollars to uphold the assessments.
“Two Walmart stores in Franklin County are claiming the tax assessments are about half of what we appraised them at,” Copeland said. “They are doing this all over the state of Missouri.”
He explained the properties owned by Walmart in Sullivan and Washington were appraised at more than $24.8 million, but Walmart is claiming the value of the properties is just over $14 million.
In Washington, there are three parcels consisting of the main store and the Murphy gas station and an additional vacant lot.
According to the assessor’s commercial appraiser, Donald Dodd, the lot on which the store is placed was assessed at $15,967,940, but Walmart claims the property is only worth $9,174,645.
The second Walmart parcel in Washington is the site of the Murphy gas station, appraised by the county at $543,960, but Walmart claims its value is $330,835.
The vacant lot owned by Walmart was assessed by the county at $130,350, but Walmart’s estimate is $71,398.
In Sullivan, Walmart owns the lot on which the store is located. It is valued by the county at $8,094,970, but Walmart claims the property is valued at $4,427,740.
An additional vacant lot owned by Walmart in Sullivan was appraised by the county at $143,690, but Walmart says its value is $75,043.
Walmart did not appeal the tax assessment on the store and property in Union.
Real estate in Franklin County is taxed on 32 percent of its appraised value and is then multiplied by the tax rates of several different taxing entities where the property is located.
Copeland says the tax appeal by the Walmart Corporation will end up hurting county residents in two different ways.
“It’s my understanding a lot of big box stores are hurting due to online shopping sites like Amazon,” Copeland said. “Losing the tax revenues is bad, but the worst part is they will have to jack prices up to cover their costs.”
On Tuesday, the county commission approved an order to hire an outside appraisal firm to represent the county in the tax appeal.
Mueller & Neff Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants, Inc., St. Louis, will provide appraisal services not to exceed $25,000.
The county assessor’s office also has its own commercial appraiser on staff.
The outside firm will conduct an independent appraisal of the Walmart properties using more in-depth cost analysis formulas.
At the same time, Walmart will have a firm conduct its own independent appraisals and then the findings of each will be reviewed by a state appraisal officer, who will make a final decision.
Warren County has also hired an independent firm based in Kansas to fight its appraisals of Walmart properties in that county.
Copeland says the county may also enter a joint defense fund with about 20 other Missouri counties to defend the assessments.
“I think we have a good chance, but even if we win, it’s only good for two years and it will keep coming back,” Copeland said. “These huge corporate entities have so much more money and resources than we do.”
Walmart was the only “big box” store to file a tax appeal in Franklin County, but there have been other commercial claims from manufacturing and warehousing properties.
In all, there were 53 appeals to tax assessments this year compared to the 17 appeals in 2018.
Despite joining with other counties and even other taxing bodies within the county, the results are not always successful.
In June of this year, Franklin County settled a property tax appeal with Missouri Natural Gas Company (Spire) after more than six years of litigation and a cost to taxpayers of $1.7 million.
The county joined with Union, Washington, Sullivan, East Central College, St. Clair and Meramec Valley R-III school districts, creating a Joint Defense Fund to combat the litigation.