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Hackensack Water Co. v. Division of Tax Appeals

Decided: April 25, 1949.

HACKENSACK WATER COMPANY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
DIVISION OF TAX APPEALS IN THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF TAXATION AND FINANCE AND TOWNSHIP OF NORTH BERGEN IN THE COUNTY OF HUDSON, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS. TOWNSHIP OF NORTH BERGEN, PROSECUTOR-RESPONDENT, V. DIVISION OF TAX APPEALS ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



On appeal from the former Supreme Court, whose opinion is reported in 137 N.J.L. 599.

Hackensack Water Company cases: For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Case, Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling and Ackerson. For reversal -- None. Township of North Bergen case: For reversal -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Case, Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling and Ackerson. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Oliphant, J.

Oliphant

This is a tax case. It is an appeal from judgments of the former Supreme Court upon three writs of certiorari to review three judgments of the Division of Tax Appeals involving assessments of personal property of the appellant located in the Township of North Bergen for the years 1944, 1945 and 1946. The appeals were heard together.

The property consisted of water mains, hydrants, meters, connections, etc., mostly underground, and comprised but part of the entire water system owned by appellant. For the year 1940 the township assessor had fixed a valuation of $1,500,000 on the identical property here involved and on appeal the former Supreme Court established the value, for assessment purposes, at $940,000, Hackensack Water Co. v. State Board of Tax Appeals, 129 N.J.L. 535 (Sup. Ct. 1948), which was affirmed by the former Court of Errors and Appeals, 130 Id. 483 (E. & A. 1943). This figure remained until the years here involved.

For 1944 the local assessment was $1,400,000. On the filing of the duplicate by Hudson County Board of Taxation this was reduced, without a hearing having been held, to $940,000. An appeal to the same board, sitting in its appellate capacity, was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and on appeal to the Division of Tax Appeals the assessment was placed at $1,225,000. This was affirmed by the former Supreme Court.

As to 1945, the township assessment being at the same figure and which the County Tax Board reduced to $940,000, the township appealed directly to the Division of Tax Appeals, thus by-passing the County Board in its appellate capacity. The Division of Tax Appeals dismissed the appeal on procedural grounds holding the statute required a prior appeal to the Hudson County Board of Taxation. R.S. 54:3-21, R.S. 54:2-39. This action was reversed by the former Supreme Court which fixed the valuation at $1,225,000.

For 1946, from a local assessment of $1,400,000 the Division of Tax Appeals affirmed a valuation of $1,250,000 placed upon the property by the County Board, which was reduced to $1,225,000 by the former Supreme Court.

Appellant contends inasmuch as the former Supreme Court, whose judgment was affirmed by the Court of Errors and Appeals, placed a valuation of $940,000 on this property for the year 1940, and there being no physical change in the property except its increased age, that valuation should remain except for proper depreciation allowances.

While it is desirable that tax litigation should not be prolonged and continued from year to year and should be brought to an end with definiteness, if possible, it is settled that "Each annual assessment of property for taxation is a separate entity, distinct from the assessment of the previous or subsequent year." United N.J.R.R., etc., Co. v. State Board, etc., 101 N.J.L. 303 (Sup. Ct. 1925); Central R. Co. of N.J. v. State Tax Dept., 112 N.J.L. 5 (E. & A. 1933).

On each assessment the test is does it reflect true value?

A full hearing was had. Both parties relied completely on the testimony of experts, yet appellant's complaint, in short, is that the testimony of the township's witnesses was based entirely on illusory standards and they argue to the effect that reproduction costs, less depreciation or obsolescence, was the controlling element in the case. This is not so, it was merely one of the elements considered.

The constitutional provision, article 4, section 7, paragraph 12 of the 1844 Constitution, as amended in 1875, requires that property should be assessed for taxation at its true value. The statutory criterion (R.S. 54:4-23), for determining that value is the consideration of the market value at a fair and bona fide sale by private contract. A selling price is a guiding indicium of fair value and ordinarily is merely evidential although it might under peculiar circumstances become controlling, subject to the ...


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