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City of Trenton v. John A. Roebling Sons Co.

Decided: January 6, 1953.

CITY OF TRENTON, APPELLANT,
v.
JOHN A. ROEBLING SONS CO., RESPONDENT



Eastwood, Goldmann and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Francis, J.c.c. (temporarily assigned).

Francis

The Division of Tax Appeals affirmed the action of the Mercer County Board of Taxation in reducing certain assessments for the year 1951 on buildings located on respondent's properties. The city now appeals.

The taxpayer is the owner of several tracts of land in Trenton, New Jersey, on which stand a large number of structures used in connection with the business of manufacturing certain types of steel wire. The various properties were grouped into four units for tax assessment purposes and the assessment imposed on the buildings in each unit is the subject matter of this litigation. The total assessments imposed were $3,213,900. The county board lowered them to $2,899,200, a reduction of $314,700, and the Division of Tax Appeals affirmed.

When assessments of this character are attacked, certain presumptions are recognized at the various hearing levels.

In the county board of taxation a presumption is applied that the quantum of the municipal assessment is correct and the burden is on the taxpayer to prove otherwise. In the Division of Tax Appeals the presumption is that the valuation as revised by the county board is accurate. Riverview Gardens v. North Arlington , 9 N.J. 167 (1952); Schaffer Belts, Inc. v. Division of Tax Appeals , 1 N.J. Super. 35

(App. Div. 1948); Atlantic City Electric Co. v. Egg Harbor Township , 135 N.J.L. 60 (Sup. Ct. 1946). In this court the presumption is that the determination in the Division of Tax Appeals is sound and the burden is on the party attacking it to overcome that presumption. Prudential Insurance Co. v. Division of Tax Appeals , 133 N.J.L. 153 (Sup. Ct. 1945).

With respect to the nature of the burden assumed on appeal to the Appellate Division, various expositions have been made which, upon analysis, seem equal in content.

Tax Division valuations involving the resolution of questions of fact will not be disturbed unless "the evidence is persuasive that there was error" (Atlantic City Electric Co. v. Egg Harbor Township, supra), or unless "it is entirely clear that the evidence will not fairly support them" (Lehigh Valley R.R. Co. v. State Board of Tax Appeals , 12 N.J. Misc. 673 (Sup. Ct. 1934), or unless there was "palpable error." United New Jersey R.R. & Canal Co. v. State Board of Taxes and Assessments , 100 N.J.L. 131, 136 (E. & A. 1924). And the circumstance that both the county board and the Division of Tax Appeals reached the same result, the Division by unanimous vote, serves to make crystal clear the outlines of the burden thus described.

The contentions of the parties in this court on the factual problems presented to the administrative agencies reflect their partisanship. The city argues that reproduction cost less depreciation is the proper basis for determining value for tax purposes; that the taxpayer's book value is an important consideration and that market value is not the absolute test. On the other hand, the taxpayer claims that book value here has no probative force; that reproduction cost less depreciation, without regard to selling value, is not the proper basis for valuation, and that in this instance the only reliable criterion is the market value or selling price.

However, all of these matters are proper elements for consideration where the ultimate fact sought is that which the statute describes as "full and fair value" based on

what the property "would sell for at a fair and bona fide sale by private contract." R.S. 54:4-23. Original cost, cost of reproduction and depreciation are pertinent but not controlling incidents. Kearny v. Division of Tax Appeals , 137 N.J.L. 634 (Sup. Ct. 1948); Village of Ridgewood v. State Board of Tax Appeals , 129 N.J.L. 121 (Sup. Ct. 1942); selling price is "a guiding indicium of fair value." Hackensack Water Co. v. Division of Tax Appeals , 2 N.J. 157 (1949); and book value "is a proper factor to be considered." Jersey City v. Harborside Warehouse Co., Inc. , 19 N.J. Misc. 222 (St. Bd. Tax App. 1941). These factors form the basis for the general doctrine that the statutory valuation is not to be tested rigidly by any constant factor. Pennsylvania R.R. Co. v. Jersey City , 98 N.J.L. 283 (E. & A. 1922).

The record discloses that the land in question was a farm when first acquired in 1848 by the founder of John A. Roebling's Sons Co. The oldest building assessed was constructed in 1860. Thereafter, in the language of respondent's expert witness, "the plant has grown and expanded, with the result that today there is a very large and sprawling operation, outmoded in many respects for its utility even to the owner." Many of the buildings are ...


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