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Duracell sues over property assessment

October 9, 2018

Bethel has hired special counsel to represent the town in an assessment lawsuit filed by Duracell U.S. Operations, which owns property in the Berkshire Corporate Park.

Berkshire Hathaway-owned Duracell filed the suit earlier this year after disputing the fair market and assessed values of the property and having an appeal denied by Bethel. The fair market value of the property at 14 Research Drive, as per the October 2017 grand list, is $60.9 million. The assessed value, is the standard 70 percent of the fair market value, or $42.6 million.

The suit, filed on April 11 in Danbury Superior Court, claims the value “was grossly excessive, disproportionate and unlawful.”

The case has since been moved to the judicial district of New Britain. A pretrial conference is scheduled for Nov. 28.

Morris Borea, an attorney with Halloran Sage, is representing Duracell and hopes the parties come to an amicable agreement and “resolve this and not go forward with litigation.”

“So far it’s been very cordial relationship with the town and we hope it continues that way. Both sides have been straightforward in terms of sharing information,” Borea said. “If that continues I think it will work out well for both parties. But we do have a difference of opinion at this point.”

Kari Olson, a partner with the firm Murtha Cullina, was appointed special counsel by Bethel during last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting. She did not want to comment on the case until she meets with town officials.

Matt Knickerbocker, Bethel first selectman, said the parties are about $20 million apart on what they consider the property to be worth.

“That’s a very significant difference,” he said. “If Duracell prevails, that’s a significant loss so the town will defend itself and say the original assessment is fair.”

Towns are required by state law to reassess properties every five years. It has become somewhat commonplace across the country for large corporations to challenge assessments. Last spring, eight companies — including Target and Walmart — sued a county in Minnesota over assessment values and property taxes.

Knickerbocker said the town hired special counsel “due to the magnitude and complexity of the case.”

Knickerbocker said Duracell is a valued member of the local business community and, regardless of the outcome, the town will maintain a strong relationship with the battery maker.

“This doesn’t affect our relationship,” he said. “This town prides itself on its relationships with the business community.”

Berkshire Corporate Park is a 300-acre corporate park with more than one million square feet of office space in Danbury, Bethel and Brookfield. The lawsuit reads that Bethel’s assessment of the Duracell property “lacks uniformity in relation to comparable properties, thereby causing Duracell to bear a disproportionate tax burden.”

The writer may be reached at cbosak@hearstmediact.com; 203-731-3338

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