Wal-Mart files tax appeal for IM store

IRON MOUNTAIN — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is appealing the property tax assessment for its supercenter on South Stephenson Avenue, seeking a roughly 22% reduction, Dickinson County commissioners learned Monday.

“It became formal today,” Equalization Director Sid Bray told the county board, noting the reduction in taxable value would total about $1.1 million for two parcels.

The potential loss to the county operating budget is $11,114 annually, while the city of Iron Mountain stands to lose $23,423 in tax revenues each year, he said. Other taxing units will face reduced collections as well, including the Breitung Township and Iron Mountain school districts.

The 2019 taxable value for the store is $5.23 million, but Wal-Mart has petitioned the Michigan Tax Tribunal for a value of $4.1 million.

So far, Wal-Mart is the only Dickinson County property owner to approach the tribunal in 2019, compared with six appeals in 2018. In those cases, settlements were reached reducing taxable values by 40 percent for S & S Shopping Center Ltd., owners of the Kmart Plaza complex in Iron Mountain; by 28 percent for O’Reilly Auto Parts in Iron Mountain; and by 26 percent for Thomas Theatre Group, owner of Tri-City Cinema 8 in Quinnesec.

Appeals are still unresolved for Orion Properties, owners of Freeman Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Kingsford; Niagara Development, which operates a private landfill in Breitung Township; and Kingsford Broach & Tool.

As the Wal-Mart case goes forward, local officials continue to monitor an appeal involving a Menards store in Escanaba. Oral arguments were heard last week and a decision from the tribunal could come this fall, Bray said.

“Everybody’s watching it statewide,” he said.

Over the past decade, big-box stores in Michigan have reduced their tax bills by convincing the tribunal their properties are so unique they should be assessed at much less than the cost of store construction.

In 2016, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled the tribunal had “committed an error of law” when it reassessed the value of Menards’ Escanaba store and reduced the city’s tax assessment on that property more than 56 percent. Menards appealed the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court, which refused in October 2017 to hear the case.

Last year, the appeals court sent the case back to the tribunal to allow the parties to present more evidence.

In Dickinson County, massive settlements in 2017 saw the taxable value of Verso Corp.’s pulp and paper mill in Quinnesec fall by 61 percent from $28.1 million to $11 million, while Systems Control got a 62 percent reduction on the taxable value of its Iron Mountain complex, dropping from $10.3 million to $3.9 million.

Other settlements substantially reduced taxable values for MJ Electric, We Energies, Pine Grove Country Club and Northfield Restaurant Corp. (Pizza Hut).

In other action Monday, the county board:

— Learned from Controller Brian Bousley that the county may receive a Waterways Grant of more than $35,000 through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The grant, which requires matching county funds, will be used to rehabilitate the boat launch at Lake Antoine Park and make other improvements. Coleman Engineering Co. of Iron Mountain is coordinating the application. Funding depends on an appropriation from the Legislature.

— Acknowledged Bacco Construction Co. of Iron Mountain for its recent in-kind services at Lake Antoine, including stump removal. Work has begun to rebuild a wall along the beach, aided by a $40,000 grant from The Toro Foundation to the Lake Antoine Park Partners. The beach wall may be in place by the Fourth of July weekend, Commissioner Joe Stevens said.

— Adopted a resolution to establish the Dickinson County Land Bank Authority. Once in place, the authority will operate under Michigan’s Land Bank Fast Track Act and have access to grants and other tools to help return tax-foreclosed properties to the tax roll. County Treasurer Lorna Carey was authorized to advertise for applicants to serve on the authority board.

— Heard Sheriff Scott Rutter report that Sgt. Jason Conery will be promoted to replace retiring Lt. Bryan Price as jail administrator. The sheriff was authorized to fill Conery’s former position as well as hire a full-time dispatcher to fill another vacancy.

— Approved the purchase and installation of a new computer server at the jail by Teck Solutions of Iron Mountain at a cost not to exceed $18,550.

— Approved a $24,636 invoice from Superior Steel Systems of Iron Mountain as down payment on a hangar door as well as electrical supplies for a new hangar building at Ford Airport. The county has secured a loan for construction with payments to be covered through a long-term lease.

— Heard Commissioner John Degenaer Jr. report that new grandstand restrooms at the Dickinson County Fairgrounds are nearing completion. Chairman Henry Wender praised volunteers for saving thousands of dollars in costs.

— Approved a donation of $200 to Sons of The American Legion Squadron 50 for the annual Independence Day fireworks display at Millie Hill in Iron Mountain.

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