Walmart sues Summit County, 31 other Colorado counties over valuation for property tax
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from Walmart provided after publication.
FRISCO — Walmart is suing Summit County and 31 other county governments in Colorado in an effort to reduce its property tax bills across the state. The big-box retail giant’s parent company, Walmart Stores Inc., is suing half of Colorado’s 64 counties over what it deems to be an overvaluation by county assessors of equipment and personal property it uses at 95 of its Colorado retail locations, including the store at 840 Summit Blvd. in Frisco.
Walmart is the world’s largest company by total revenue with more than $514 billion made at over 11,000 stores, making $129 billion in gross profit last year. According to the Summit County assessor’s office, the retailer was billed $21,710 in property taxes for $1.38 million worth of personal property at its Frisco location for the 2019 tax year.
As marginal as that tax bill might seem, the retailer is looking to trim it and is using a full-court press of litigation across the state to do so. Aside from Summit, Walmart is also suing Eagle County with its lone store at 171 Yoder Ave. in Avon.
The basic dispute hinges on whether county assessors across the state have been overvaluing the personal property at Walmart’s retail locations, resulting in larger tax bills based on those assessments.
That personal property includes items like check-out stands, refrigeration and food preparation equipment, automotive repair and warehouse equipment, shelving, light fixtures and other items the retailer uses in the normal course of business every day. Those are all items that add value to the property itself.
In the complaint filed against the Summit County Board of Equalization on Sept. 4, Walmart’s attorney Brian Huebsch argued that Summit County does not properly assess the value of its personal property at its Frisco store. Huebsch and Walmart argue that the assessor needs to take other factors into consideration to make proper assessments.
Walmart argued that assessors need to take into consideration that its stores operate 18 to 24 hours a day (Frisco’s Walmart is open 18 hours daily from 6 a.m. to midnight), which makes the property depreciate in value faster than what the state and counties allow under the depreciation tables used to assess personal property value. That also means the retailer gets rid of used equipment faster, resulting in a lot of used equipment sold on the open market.
Walmart also argued that the “overwhelming number of store closures of Walmart’s competitors” in Colorado and across the U.S. is flooding the market for used equipment and fixtures, thereby lowering the resale value, and actual market value, of its own personal property.
Walmart argues the sales price it receives for used equipment is “a mere fraction” of the cost to replace those items, and the county assessors should take that lesser value into consideration when assessing personal property.
The attorney argues these factors create “external” factors that do not allow for the prerequisite “normal economic conditions” under which the market value for property value needs to be assessed, according to Colorado case law.
Summit County Assessor Frank Celico denied that the county engaged in any unfair assessment practices.
“Our assessments are fair and accurate, and we follow the law,” Celico said.
Before suing the counties individually, Walmart had already tried, and failed, to appeal its property assessment rates at the state level. The Colorado Board of Equalization, the state body which responds to appeals of property tax assessments to ensure fair assessment and taxation, denied Walmart’s petition in July.
By suing counties individually, Walmart is ostensibly trying to get at least one district court to issue a favorable ruling, which could then be used as precedent at other courts across the state.
Summit County government did not offer comment on the complaint to the Summit Daily News.
On Friday, Walmart Director of Communications Tiffany Wilson provided the following statement on the lawsuits filed against Summit and other counties:
“We believe in fair and equitable property taxation and that every property owner has the right to challenge their property tax assessment if there is evidence of over-assessment. We are simply seeking a fair market value for the taxation of our property, just as any other taxpayer should expect under state laws.”
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