An ongoing court challenge by Walmart of the assessed property value of its supercentre here has put the City of Terrace into the position of budgeting for a potential refund of taxes already paid by the corporation.
The corporation is appealing its 2013, 2014 and 2015 assessments.
Assessment values are determined by the B.C. Assessment Authority, an independent agency, and not by local governments although those values set do have impact when local governments determine the rates to be paid by various property classifications.
Walmart’s 2015 tax bill was more than $410,000 with just under $310,000 of that representing municipal taxes. One of the city’s largest property tax payers, Walmart’s 2013-2015 tax bills were within the same range.
Should Walmart win its court challenge, the exact amount of any refund is not known.
“We have approximately $79,000 set aside but this amount is an estimate and we are awaiting the court decision on this matter,” said city corporate administrator Alisa Thompson in a statement.
The potential for a refund has caused the city to adjust downward its anticipated taxation revenues for this year. That dip is approximately $154,000, from $12.696 million based on provisional figures late last year to $12.542 million now when other adjustments are taken into account.
The prospect of a Walmart tax refund is being buffered by a $4 million federal gas tax grant recently announced for a substantial overhaul of the city’s aquatic centre.
It is now allowing the city to use money it had already tucked away in a capital reserve for the pool and other projects for other purposes, says mayor Carol Leclerc.
“The gas tax windfall that we got, that was a huge difference,” said Leclerc of the federal money.
“[We] built a capital reserve of $150,000 per year, so that was able to come into other programs that we could look at,” she said.
This amount for the capital reserve in the budget for 2017, 2018 and 2019 was freed up for other projects.
The big item will be the reconstruction of the George Little Park playground in 2017 which cost $250,000 and will coincide with the Rotary Splash Park project in the same park.
The revised budget also includes $60,000 for an office refit in the RCMP building, $10,000 per year for lands projects and $80,000 in 2018 for an update of the city’s digital mapping program, Terra Map.
“We are still sitting at a comfortable surplus,” said Leclerc, adding that the city budget, which will be finalized this spring, is still one with a zero tax increase.
Walmart opened its store here in 2004 and in late 2014 completed extensive interior renovations to the 112,000 square-foot facility so that it could add a full-service grocery section.
Its ranking as one of the city’s largest taxpayers accelerated when the city lost a large sawmill, Skeena Cellulose/Terrace Lumber Company, in the last decade and when Skeena Sawmills was closed for several years late in the last decade and early into this one.
Note: This article has been updated to include the new projects contained in the city’s most recent draft budget and the fact that Walmart is also appealing its 2015 assessment for its Terrace building.