Trial Set for Walmart’s Assessment Dispute in Sturgeon Bay

A three-day trial has been scheduled for next September in Door County Circuit Court to consider a civil suit brought by Walmart against the City of Sturgeon Bay. Walmart is seeking to lower the assessed value of its three parcels along Egg Harbor Road.

Attorneys representing the company and the city participated Oct. 10 in a telephone conference with Judge D. Todd Ehlers, who set a court trial for Sept. 11-13.

The Walmart Real Estate Business Trust – which last year reached an out-of-court settlement with the city to lower its assessment for property-tax years 2021 and 2022 – alleges in its latest suit that the 2023 assessment for the combined value of the parcels should be no more than $4.45 million, compared to the current assessed value of $6.671 million. Last year’s out-of-court settlement lowered the assessed value to the current amount. Prior to reaching that mediated agreement, it had been $7.65 million. Before agreeing to that settlement, Walmart also claimed the parcels should have been assessed at no more than $4.45 million.

Should Walmart prevail once again in seeking to lower its assessment, the company would also be able to receive a refund of property taxes determined to be excessive that were imposed above what should be the assessed value.

Buoyed by a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in February upholding the City of Delavan’s assessment of a Lowe’s store, city officials in Sturgeon Bay said they believe they’ll be able to prevail in court this time and are contesting the latest lawsuit rather than pursuing a settlement.

“I think we’re better prepared this time,” said Mayor David Ward.

He said Walmart should pay its “fair share” of property taxes, which are being properly imposed with the city’s current assessed values.

The city is being represented in the case by Town Counsel Law & Litigation, whose attorney, Michael J. Pflughoeft Jr., argued in court documents that Walmart is not entitled to a reduction in its assessed property value or a refund.

In Walmart’s latest suit, filed by the Milwaukee-based law firm of Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, the company claims its assessed value is “excessive,” and the assessment was “not uniform with the assessment of other properties in the city and state and therefore violates the Uniformity Clause of the Wisconsin Constitution.”

The company also claimed when it filed an objection this year with the city’s Board of Review, prior to the board approving a hearing waiver for the matter to go directly to circuit court, that the assessed value is “excessive based on other comparable big-box stores and appraisals.”

Walmart and other commercial retailers with stores in Wisconsin have sought to lower their property assessments with this “dark-store loophole,” in which they claim that their properties are worth the same or close to the lower value of similar, but empty buildings.

State law recognizes three possible methods for assessing property: the market approach, which compares properties that have sold to value those that have not; the cost approach, which is related to the cost to develop a property; and the income approach, which involves a property’s income potential.

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