By MARK WIEBE
Posted on Tue, Jul. 14, 2009 10:51 PM
The Kansas City Star
Nebraska Furniture Mart and the Unified Government exchanged heated words Tuesday, a day after the government’s top administrator took Wyandotte County’s largest retailer to task for not paying taxes.
The company’s vice president, Bob Batt, said that Nebraska Furniture Mart has “never failed to pay an obligation,” and that the Unified Government was bullying the company.
The Unified Government, in turn, said Nebraska Furniture Mart was undermining a partnership that began earlier this decade when the company used more than $65 million in public subsidies to help build what has become a nearly 1.5 million-square-foot store and warehouse.
Government spokesman Mike Taylor said the company’s refusal to pay more than $6 million in property taxes was a “slap in the face of that partnership.”
Batt, who flew in from the company’s Omaha, Neb., headquarters, held a news conference inside the Kansas City, Kan., store to explain why Nebraska Furniture Mart, a company whose investors include billionaire Warren Buffett, has not paid its taxes for more than two years.
The company has accumulated roughly $6.2 million in unpaid property tax bills. But Batt argued that it should not have to pay because the Unified Government has grossly over-appraised the store’s value.
The company has appealed that value every year since 2003. In 2007, the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals ruled against the Unified Government’s $68.9 million appraisal, siding with Nebraska Furniture Mart’s value of only $29 million.
The Unified Government has appealed that decision. If the amount stands, the county’s taxing jurisdictions, including its school districts and community college, would collectively lose at least $1.25 million.
Batt said that Nebraska Furniture Mart offered to pay its taxes through 2012 — if the Unified Government used the $29 million value to calculate the tax bill.
Taylor said agreeing to that value would be irresponsible. Further, he argued, the company is failing to follow the law by not paying its taxes. A disagreement over the value of a property does not exempt its owner from having to pay.
“That’s not the way any other taxpayer, any other business gets to do it,” Taylor said.
Batt said his company stood ready to pay the debt — on one condition: “We would write a check today if the courts said this is what you owe.”
Tensions escalated a day after County Administrator Dennis Hays called out Nebraska Furniture Mart and The Legends shopping center for not paying their property taxes.
The Legends owes $5.1 million from its 2008 tax bill.
Hays made his statement while presenting a budget proposal that must address a $15 million revenue shortfall.
“Businesses and individuals who refuse to pay money they legitimately owe hurts every citizen in Wyandotte County,” Hays said.
Batt said that it was wrong for the government to attempt to solve its budget problems by drawing attention to the tax dispute.
“We are not responsible for the budget deficits in the Unified Government,” he said. “You cannot try to put that on us or any other business in town.”Related Links
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