North Arkansas leaders concerned about impacts of Walmart property tax case in Pulaski Co.

BAXTER COUNTY, Ark. - Court documents out of Pulaski County show Walmart is claiming Pulaski County over-assessed its 10 stores there by millions of dollars.

A statement from the company's senior director of communications, Delia Garcia, states: “We believe in fair property taxation and, based on an independent analysis of comparable properties and current market conditions in Pulaski County, we believe the value of the property is lower than the assessed amount.”

Garcia also said Walmart evaluates property taxes carefully, and if the company feels its stores are over-assessed, it tries to work with local jurisdictions to reach fair market value.

The Baxter County assessor said the company is siting the dark store theory in its case.

“They want to be appraised as if they’re closed, a vacant, not a thriving store," said Baxter County Assessor Jayme Nicholson, who is also the vice president for the Arkansas County Assessor's Association.

This issue has already been fought in some counties in other states.

“Michigan, Indiana, Kansas just recently lost against Walmart. They lost $60 million-worth of value, which will be millions in tax dollars," Nicholson said.

If Walmart were to win the case in Pulaski County, it would mean a property tax loss of $4.5 million there.

Nicholson said Arkansas law disputes Walmart's argument.

"We appraise by the current use of the property. If it's vacant, it's vacant. If it's currently being used as commercial, it's commercial. If it's residential, it's residential. If it's a thriving business, it's a thriving business," she said.

If this case reaches the state supreme court, and the court rules in favor of the big-box retailer:

"We are a fair and equitable state," Nicholson said. "If we do Walmart, we have to assess everyone in that category the same way. So it would be devastating to our revenue statewide."

The assessor said Walmart and other stores, like Lowe's, would be assessed the same way, pay less in property taxes, and it would affect all counties in the state, not just Pulaski.

For Baxter County, the assessor said that would mean a loss of around $250,000.

Nicholson said a majority of that money goes toward schools.

"There's no way it can't be made up. We would have to close schools," she said.

Which means taxpayers would have to step in.

"It would be either services, or the tax millages would have to be raised. And that would affect you and I personally," she said.

In a statement, Superintendent Dr. Jake Long said, "Schools are guaranteed to be funded first by the state, so while this situation would not initially have a dramatic effect on us receiving our funding, it would reduce the availability of state funding, which would ultimately have a negative impact across the state. Over time, this would put a greater burden on local school boards and local taxpayers to continue to fund our schools at an equal level."

Nicholson said she wants the big-box retailer to stay in Arkansas, and in Baxter County, but assessors believe Walmart should pay property taxes just like everyone else in the state.

The case is being heard in Pulaski County Wednesday and is expected to be appealed all the way up to the state supreme court in the future.