Walmart assessment means higher tax bills in F-FCSD

By HEATHER NELLIS

heather.nellis@recordernews.com

TOWN OF MOHAWK -- Town Assessor Stella Gittle said Fonda-Fultonville's school tax rate for the town should have decreased under this year's equalization rates, but all of the school district's taxpayers have to make up for the reduced assessment of the Walmart Distribution Center.

Out of the 2013-14 school budget, Fonda-Fultonville taxpayers have to make up $392,370, between a tax repayment to Walmart for the 2012-13 school year, and the reduction of Walmart's tax liability to the current school year.

Compared to last year, the town of Mohawk's equalization rate increased to 101 percent, said Gittle, the sole assessor for both Mohawk and Glen.

"Basically, what the state of New York does is they check everybody's home sales every year, and they check their assessment roles. If sales values are higher than the assessments, the equalization rates will go down, and if sales values are lower than assessments, than equalization rates will go up," Gittle explained.

The latter was the case in the town of Mohawk, so the town's equalization rate increased to 101 percent. To have an equalization rate that exceeds 100 percent is not rare, Gittle said.

"There are a lot of towns in the state with equalization rates over 100 percent," she said, rattling off Rotterdam (102 percent), Schenectady (108 percent), and the highest for Plainfield (122.9 percent).

But the 101 percent equalization rate has nothing to do with the fact the town's school tax rate increased. The fact it increased at all says the tax rate should have actually gone down, Gittle said.

Gittle also pointed to the 100 percent equalization rates for the towns of Charleston and Root that stayed the same compared to last year.

"It's almost a non-change," Gittle said of the 1 percent increase for Mohawk's equalization rate. "In a normal year, that would have decreased tax rates, and in Charleston and Root, I would have expected not to see anything change at all."

"The only thing I can figure is the assessment of the Walmart Distribution Center took a huge hit," Gittle said. "Taxpayers will be making up that hole twice this year, because they didn't reduce the budget to take that into account."

Walmart Corp. in 2012 sued the city of Johnstown in attempts to reduce the $36 million assessment of its facility in the Johnstown Industrial Park. The city and company in November 2012 agreed upon a settlement that reduces the facility's assessment from roughly $36 million to $23 million through 2016.

That required the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District to pay back $132,000 for taxes the company paid in the 2012-13 school year. The district decided to pay it back out of its current budget, which just started in July.

"By the time the deal was finalized, the school bills were already issued," City Treasurer Michael Gifford said in a past interview. "That's why Fonda-Fultonville would be required to pay a refund, based on the assessment reduction."

The reduced assessment will also decrease the amount tax revenues collected from the company in the future, including this school year, which is why Gittle said taxpayers have to make up the whole twice in one year.

District Treasurer Carey Shultz said when all is said and done, the taxable value of the Walmart property was approximately $11,000,000 less than the taxable value presented in 2012-2013.

"That $11 million reduction relates to a reduction of tax liability to Walmart of $260,370 for 2013-14," Shultz said.

"It's a similar situation to when PILOT revenue falls off. We have to make it up somewhere," Shultz said.

The current budget also increased the levy by 4.5 percent. The district Board of Education at its regular August meeting adopted the tax warrant in the amount of $9,823,067.

All of Montgomery County's towns saw increases for Fonda-Fultonville school tax bills mailed this month, but the burden of the levy is shared across all municipalities within the school district's boundaries, including Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties.