[40 NJSuper Page 552] This complaint in lieu of prerogative writ was filed by the Township of Berkeley Heights, which is one of the municipal taxing districts of the County of Union. It is likewise one of the constituent municipal taxing
school districts comprising Union County Regional High School District No. 1. That district exists by virtue of its creation pursuant to a special election called for that purpose in 1935 under R.S. 18:8-1 et seq. , and includes the municipal taxing school districts of the Boroughs of Garwood, Kenilworth and Mountainside and of the Townships of Springfield and Clark, in addition to the plaintiff. By force of R.S. 18:8-17 the amounts of money needed for annual or special appropriations for a regional school district and including the amounts to be raised for redemption and interest on bonds, is apportionable to the constituent school taxing districts upon the basis of their respective ratables. By the election required by the statute the voters of this regional district approved the school budget for the year 1956 and other formal requisites were complied with early in 1956.
This being done, and under the authority of R.S. 18:8-17(3), the regional board of education made the apportionment required by that statute, based upon the ratables of the respective constituent school districts for the year 1955. On February 27, 1956 it certified the results of such apportionment to the Union County Board of Taxation and to the assessors of the several taxing districts and the municipal clerks of the municipalities therein included. The amount of district taxes to be raised in the regional district for current expenses was fixed at $712,914.76, and for retirement and interest on bonds of $207,560.07, or a total of $920,474.83. The total of ratables of regional district constituents was determined to be $58,281,375, of which plaintiff, Berkeley Heights, possessed $8,185,132. The apportionment of school taxes to be raised by plaintiff, on the basis of this ascertainment of ratables, was therefore $100,122.92 for current outlay and $29,150.08 for bond retirement and interest, or a total of $129,273.
Meanwhile, the Union County Tax Board by virtue of its obligations under R.S. 54:3-18 had met to equalize the assessments of real property between the several taxing districts of the county. As the result of recent judicial pronouncements unnecessary to quote here, new concepts of true
value and other elements resulted in an equalization table (under R.S. 54:3-19) which substantially altered the ratables deemed to exist in each of the constituent districts. Thus, the total ratables of the constituent communities was fixed at $258,096,296, and that of the plaintiff Berkeley Heights was fixed at $53,488,157, as compared with the previous total of the region of $58,281,375 and a Berkeley Heights total of $8,185,132, as above mentioned. This revaluation and equalization of ratables (having binding effect, if ultimately found to be valid, under R.S. 54:3-19, supra) resulted in this difference as to plaintiff Berkeley Heights in the amount of school taxes required to be raised by it:-the amount for current outlays increased from $100,122.92 to $147,745.23 and for retirement of bonds and interest from $29,150.08 to $43,014.97. These figures resulted in a total of increased taxes to be raised by Berkeley Heights of approximately $61,487. While the increase in ratables as determined by the Union County Board of Taxation was general, in that all municipalities were increased, the increase in apportionment resulted in a lower apportionment for some communities whose ratables, while increased by the equalization table, were not increased proportionately to those of Berkeley Heights.
The revalued apportionment was accepted by the regional board of education which, on April 3, 1956, by resolution certified the new figures to the appropriate assessors of the constituent school taxing districts, including the plaintiff.
Thus aggrieved, and condemning the new certification as illegal and void, plaintiff seeks the judgment of this court nullifying the reapportionment referred to, compelling the reinstatement of the original apportionment, and requiring the Union County Board of Taxation to reflect such reinstated original apportionment in the respective municipal tax rates fixed by it for the year 1956. Among its grounds of attack are included the time limitations of the statute, the finality which should be accorded a tax levy imposed, the constitutionality of the statute, R.S. 18:8-17, supra , and the disproportion of cost per pupil between it and other constituent municipalities.
In seeking summary judgment defendants urge that plaintiff has not exhausted its administrative remedies and that under R.R. 4:88-14 the complaint should be dismissed since it does not appear that it is "manifest that the interests of justice require otherwise." Insofar as the complaint here challenges the validity of the adoption by the tax board of the equalization table contemplated by R.S. 54:3-18, 19, supra , the defendants are clearly in the right. As a matter of fact, such equalization, having been challenged by several Union County municipalities, is presently pending on appeal before the State Division of Tax Appeals. But insofar as the action is aimed at the steps taken by the regional board of education (and assuming, as I must, the validity of the equalization determined by the tax board), other meritorious questions exist which the court should, under all the circumstances and in the manifest interests of justice, now consider. Administrative relief (other than and beyond the appeal from or review of the equalization action of the Union County Board of Taxation) is not so clearly and manifestly available as to oust the Law Division of jurisdiction. Cf. Baldwin Construction Co. v. Essex County Board of Taxation , 21 N.J. Super. 370 (Law Div. 1952); Apex Building, Inc. v. Essex County Board of Taxation , 24 N.J. Super. 252 (Law Div. 1952).
And on the merits I determine that R.S. 18:8-17, supra , and its auxiliary procedural statutes, are valid and constitutional; that it is within the power of the Legislature to apportion school costs on the basis of ratables, unless a given region determines otherwise, as its voters are permitted to do under the statute, R.S. 18:8-19; that such constitutional power is based upon the very concept of public education which has always inhered in the most basic institutions of our nation's life.
Public education of the young is a public obligation and has always been so considered. The burden of its cost is not allocable alone to the individual taxpayer having an educable child, and ...