Cornwall Walmart DC assessment appeal ‘dragging’: ARB

The former Eleven Points Logistics Distribution Center (DC), seen here in a May 2012 City of Cornwall photo. Walmart, which now owns the site, is in the middle of an assessment review board mediation process with the city. The assessment review board has asked all parties to not drag the proceedings out and to stick to timelines. (City of Cornwall via Newswatch Group, File)

CORNWALL – The mediator in the property assessment dispute between the City of Cornwall and Walmart’s two distribution centers is imploring all parties to meet or beat their timelines.

“I’m begging you to stick to your timelines and I’m not going to use the force of the board’s orders to throw out anybody’s material or restrict evidence,” assessment review board (ARB) mediator Warren Morris said Tuesday morning during a conference call.

“You have to feel for the city (Cornwall) and this, dragging out as long as it has, because this will be another year since we met in December,” Morris said. “Try to beat your timelines.”

On the call were lawyers for Walmart and AEC International Inc. (a property assessment agent for Walmart), Cornwall Municipal Assessor Brad Maloney, city lawyer Roberto Aburto of Gowling WLG as well as ARB mediator Morris.

Karey Lunau, lawyer for MPAC, said the original timelines had “aggressive dates” and turned out to be challenging given personnel changes within the administration at Walmart. Lunau said production of evidence requests have been completed, but getting the documents together has taken a lot of time.

But Jeff Cowan, lawyer for Walmart, said production of documentation has “become an issue” an indicated further production orders may be coming.

A motion is expected to be filed by Aug. 18 with a response by Sept. 8. The motion would be heard by the assessment review board on Sept. 28.

Discoveries (a legal procedure where each side shares their case file with the other) will be held in late September before the parties meet again on Dec. 12 to get an update and possibly set further mediation dates.

Walmart’s main DC (formerly SCM) and the Eleven Points Logistics DC (now owned by Walmart) are part of a group of distribution centers (DCs) who appealed their assessment.

In 2012, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation changed the way it valuated distribution centers, causing values to soar 86-96 per cent over fours years (2013-2016).

The City of Cornwall reached a mediated settlement with MPAC and Shoppers Realty in February, which saw the city pay back $274,564 for the taxation years of 2012-2016.

The Assessment Review Board had revalued the Shoppers Optimum Drive DC at $44 million – a 20 per cent reduction in the value.

The city still had $1.41 million in a tax stabilization reserve account to pay for tax settlements and has budgeted $1.4 for refunds this year, according to CFO Tracey Bailey.

If there’s a mediated settlement or a ruling from ARB for Walmart, with similar terms as Shoppers Realty, the City of Cornwall would be on the hook to pay back $4.13 million in taxes.