On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, whose opinion is reported in 40 N.J. Super. 549.
For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling, Jacobs and Weintraub. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Burling, J.
[23 NJ Page 278] The Township of Berkeley Heights, a participant in the Union County Regional High School District No. 1, challenged the action of the board of education and the Union County Board of Taxation in apportioning current expenses and debt obligations of the school district among the participating members on the basis of the equalization table promulgated by the county tax board in 1956. From a summary judgment entered in the trial court (Township of Berkeley Heights in Union County v. Board of Ed. of Union County, etc., 40 N.J. Super. 549 (Law Div. 1956)), Berkeley Heights filed an appeal with the Superior Court,
Appellate Division, and we certified the cause prior to a review below.
The Union County Regional High School District No. 1 was created under R.S. 18:8-1 et seq., by virtue of a special election called for that purpose in 1935. It includes the Boroughs of Garwood, Kenilworth and Mountainside and the Townships of Clark, Springfield and the plaintiff Berkeley Heights.
There are two statutory modes whereby operating expenses of a regional school district may be apportioned among the participants -- on the basis of ratables or a per capita student basis. R.S. 18:8-17. (The former method is required in the reduction of bond indebtedness. R.S. 18:8-17(1).) The regional district here has followed the ratable method of apportionment.
Following statutory direction the regional board of education in February 1956 submitted a proposed appropriation to the voters, after public hearing, for the ensuing school year commencing July 1, 1956. R.S. 18:8-14, 16; R.S. 18:7-77.1, 77.2. The appropriation of $920,474.83 (which included both current expenses and retirement and interest on bonds) was approved by the electorate.
R.S. 18:8-17 (prior to amendment by L. 1956, c. 95, effective January 1, 1957) required the regional board of education itself to apportion the approved appropriation "upon the basis of the ratables of the constituent school districts" and thereafter certify the statement to the Union County Board of Taxation. This was accomplished by February 27. Following prior practice the apportionment was based upon the aggregate valuation of ratables as reported by each of the participating members for 1955 to the county tax board. The respective aggregates constituted the work product of the local assessors before equalization. Based upon its 1955 ratables, Berkeley Heights had the burden of carrying $129,273 of the total appropriation.
Thereafter, the Union County Tax Board returned the statement and requested the regional board of education to compute the apportionment upon the basis of the equalized
valuation of ratables of the participating members. The adjustment worked to increase Berkeley Heights contribution to the school program by some $61,000. The revised apportionment was submitted to the county tax board on April 3 and thus within the time limited for the tax board to make up its table of aggregates and establish a tax rate by April 10. R.S. 54:4-52.
Berkeley Heights contends, in essence, that the apportionment upon equalized valuations was improper, not only in the light of the applicable statute and alleged prior custom, but also in view of time limitations which were not complied with in the corrected apportionment as directed by the Union County Tax Board.
R.S. 18:8-17 (prior to its latest amendment not applicable here) goes no further than to state that the appropriation is to be apportioned upon the basis of the "ratables" of the participating members, at least where, as here, that method of distributing the burden is in force. Now, by virtue of L. 1956, c. 95, sec. 2, which amended R.S. 18:8-17, effective January 1, 1957, it is clear that apportionment is upon the basis of the "apportionment valuations," the latter term being arithmetically defined in N.J.S.A. 54:4-49 (L. 1956, c. 93, sec. 2) as a figure attained after equalization of the district aggregates. These ...