Arcadia, Florida is a city of roughly 7,000 people in DeSoto County. It has miles of orange groves, and pastures, but the largest building in this small community is a one million square foot Wal-Mart distribution center. The huge building was built on a former ranch on the edge of DeSoto and Charlotte counties in 2005. The D.C. is seven stories tall, and everyday, DeSoto County roads rumble with 4,800 truck and car trips in and out of the enormous facility. Across Route 17 from the warehouse is a 400 site RV “resort” park called Live Oak. The Assistant Manager of Live Oak told the Daytona News-Journal that her RV residents have learned to accommodate the noise of the trucks and the building’s cooling system. “You just get used to it. At night, (snowbirds) complain about the noise, but they’re not here all the time,” the assistant manager explained. Officials in DeSoto county thought they were making the right decision when they allowed Wal-Mart to build. Wal-Mart says there are 450 jobs at the Arcadia plant, making an average wage of $12 an hour. That’s $25,000 a year — assuming a 40 hour work week. One worker interviewed by the newspaper said he started off loading pallets, but couldn’t keep up with production quotas, so he was moved into maintenance. “It’s hard work, no doubt. You got to go, go, go all night,” he said. DeSoto County Commissioner Ronald Neads told the News-Journal that turnover is high at the warehouse, and that the company is always hiring. Neads said the jobs don’t seem to have longevity. He estimated that only 450 of its 600 positions are filled. But DeSoto county has a bigger problem than unfilled jobs. The County is being sued by Wal-Mart over the level of property taxes it pays on its distribution center. This might seem like an ungrateful act by the giant corporation, since the distribution center was built with the help of state and federal taxpayers. Before the warehouse could be built, Route 17 had to be widened to handle the huge increase in traffic generated by the center. The facility also needed water and sewer facilities. DeSoto County put together a whopping $33 million in state and federal subsidies to pay for water and sewer connections, road improvements and other incentives for the world’s richest retailer. The Arcadia Wal-Mart has water and sewer thanks to U.S. taxpayers. As a token of appreciation, Wal-Mart has filed a lawsuit against DeSoto county, claiming that the county has over-assessed the facility at $99 million. The County’s Appraiser complains that Wal-Mart has “never said what they think they’re worth, just that it’s substantially less.” The County Appraiser notes that since filing the lawsuit, Wal-Mart has failed to pay DeSoto County their full property taxes due. “We’re not used to being sued,” he admits, “to a larger county that’s old hat, but it scares us to death.” That’s exactly the reaction Wal-Mart might have wished for.
Over the years, Sprawl-Busters has written many stories about the extent of public subsidies used to build Wal-Mart’s distribution system. Public funds have been used to build the system that supplies Wal-Mart stores, that puts smaller merchants at a financial disadvantage, and ultimately puts them out of business. The “free” market at Wal-Mart means you go after free money from taxpayers to help build your empire. In nearby Putnam County, Florida, residents in Crescent City have been fighting off an 880,000 s.f. Wal-Mart distribution center. In that case, Wal-Mart has offered to lend the county $2 million for road improvements — but Putnam county will have to use state tax dollars to repay the loan, for roads that will predominately be used by Wal-Mart trucks. Wal-Mart will also get job-creation tax credits that will cut their property tax bill to the county by nearly 75%, from $380,000 a year, to $100,000. In Putnam County, Commissioner Ed Taylor is staunchly against any welfare subsidies to Wal-Mart. “I am strongly opposed to giving one penny to Wal-Mart. They have enough money to buy this county,” he told the News-Journal. Taylor said he would not be surprised if Wal-Mart tried to sue Putnam county over taxes too. “They’ll probably challenge us from time to time, because money is the bottom line for them, and they’ll do anything to do it. Wal-Mart is just a money-hungry monopoly.” For a copy of the Sprawl-Buster’s report, “Wal-Mart’s Distribution Centers: Built With Public Welfare,” email [email protected]