The Grand Forks County Commission denied a request to reduce the property value of a chain department store.

Commissioners, after a lengthy back-and-forth discussion with an attorney representing Kohl’s department store, on Tuesday unanimously rejected a request to reduce the 2018 full and true value of the property from just over $6.2 million to $3.7 million. Had the commission moved to lower the value of the property, taxes for the retailer would have been lowered for that year.

The conflict stemmed from differences in how Kohl’s and City Assessor Paul Houdek derived the value of the building. But part of the problem, noted County Commission Chairwoman Cynthia Pic, was that Kohl’s did not provide an appraisal of the building, located on 32nd Avenue South.

David Tibbals, an attorney with Fargo-based law firm Fredrikson & Byron who is representing Kohl’s, said an appraisal is not required under state law. Pic said that an appraisal would have added weight to the application to reduce the value of the building.

Also, in 2017 Kohl’s put the building up for sale for $8.3 million. The building did not sell, but commissioners questioned the price tag the retailer attached to the building, a few years before attempting to have its value reduced.

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“I think Kohl’s really hurt themselves by putting this building up for sale for over two times what they're saying the value is, when they're asking for an abatement on taxes,” said Commissioner Tom Falck. “They're really setting two different values at approximately the same time.”

Tibbals asked to table action on the request until a subsequent meeting, where he could have possibly presented an appraisal to the board, but commissioners decided to move forward with the vote. Though he said he has not discussed with his client the possibility of going to court over the value of the building, Tibbals didn’t leave it off the table.

“Once you decide here today, I can't come back to you with this very abatement request,” Tibbals said. “Once that happens, it goes to district court, that's the next step.”

In other commission news:

  • Immediately following the Kohl’s vote, commissioners moved to reduce the property value of a psychiatry clinic in the Aurora Medical park on 44th Avenue South. Commissioners voted to reduce the assessed value of the clinic from just over $8 million to $5.8 million for the tax years 2018, 2019 and 2020. A separate unit also belonging to the clinic at Aurora location was also reduced in value from $8.3 million to $5.2 million for 2018, 2019 and 2020. Houdek agreed to reduce the value of the building after the sale was not recorded, when the building was purchased for $5.7 million in 2018, even though the property owner submitted the contract for deed, along with income and expenses, in 2017.

  • Grand Forks Public Health reported to the commission that vaccinations are proceeding well in the county, which is trending above vaccination rates for other counties in the state. Some 16% of county residents have been fully vaccinated, and 25% have had at least one dose of the required two, for some vaccines. Still, according to Michael Dulitz, who is performing data analysis for the Health Department, at least 24,000 of 38,800 people eligible for the vaccine need to receive it in order to reach herd immunity.

  • Commissioners signed off on a number of contractors that submitted the lowest bids for materials, including crushed gravel and culverts, to the Grand Forks County Highway Department. True North Steel, ADS and Ferguson Waterworks were awarded contracts with the county.

  • Commissioners also signed off on a pair of grants for the Grand Forks Sheriff's Office. One grant will bring $133,000 to the department for drone equipment and operations, and the other brings $5,000 for equipment, training and patrolling waterways in the county.

  • After a unanimous vote, Grand Forks County will enter Phase Three of its COVID-19 reopening plan. On April 12, the County Office Building will reopen to the general public, following capacity standards set forth by the state’s Smart Restart Guidelines. People entering county buildings will still be required to wear masks. This means that the district court building will be at least partially open to the public, though masks will be required there as well. Presiding Judge Don Hager will determine how in-person hearings will be conducted.