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Jat Co. v. Division of Tax Appeals

Decided: November 29, 1957.


Goldmann, Freund and Conford. The opinion of the court was delivered by Conford, J.A.D.


[47 NJSuper Page 575] This appeal raises the question of the correctness of judgments of the State Division of Tax Appeals fixing assessments for taxation of six parcels of real property in the Township of Saddle Brook (formerly Saddle River) for the tax years 1954 and 1955. Two of the parcels are owned by appellant Jat Company, Inc., and the

other four by appellant Zuckerberg. The Bergen County Board of Taxation had, on appeal, granted the taxpayers substantial reductions from the assessments, apparently on the theory of discriminatory assessment. The reductions were wholly reversed by the State Division as to some of the parcels and modified as to others. On the present appeals the taxpayers press the contention that they proved a case of discriminatory assessment before both the county and state tax agencies, within the decisions in Baldwin Construction Co. v. Essex County Board of Taxation , 16 N.J. 329 (1954), and Gibraltar Corrugated Paper Co. v. North Bergen Township , 20 N.J. 213 (1955), and that the revision of the county board judgments by the State Division was erroneous.

A brief description of the properties involved will be useful. Lot 1, Block 157 (4 acres) and Lot 4, Block 153 (2.74 acres) abut each other, north-south, being on the west side of North Midland Avenue and bounded by a railroad right of way on the west. On Lot 1 there is a store building. The other lot is vacant. These properties are zoned industrial, but there is a small tract developed with residences immediately south of Lot 4. The other properties under appeal all lie east of North Midland Avenue, the nearest to that thoroughfare being Lot 1, Block 154 (3.49 acres), the next, Lot 2, Block 154 (21.96 acres), and then Lot 3, Block 154 (21.65 acres). A slaughterhouse business has been conducted on Lot 2 for many years. The other lots mentioned are vacant land. Lot 1 is zoned industrial, Lots 2 and 3 residential. Skirting these lots on the south and traversing part of Lots 3 and 2 is the Garden State Parkway, according to the Township Zoning Map in evidence. The last parcel involved is Lot 1, Block 159 (19.18 acres), directly north of Lot 2, Block 154, zoned residential and apparently adjacent to a school and developed residential area. This is also vacant land.

A witness for the taxpayers testified that prior to the making of the 1954 assessments, the Township of Saddle Brook made a general revaluation study of taxable property

in the municipality and that this resulted in assessment increases for that tax year over the tax year 1953 of from $10 to $300 as to 2,200 assessed parcels and from $2,000 to $40,000 as to 50 parcels, the remaining 700 assessed properties being either reduced or left unchanged. The 50 properties mentioned absorbed an aggregate increase of $400,000 of the total net increase of all ratables of $550,000. The properties involved in the present case are said to fall in this class of 50. The same witness, William J. Schwenn, a real estate valuation expert, further testified that he had made a general study of the relationship of assessed valuations to true value of property in Saddle Brook as of prior to the tax year 1954, based upon his analysis of 400 sales of residential property, and that this disclosed that "these residential properties were assessed approximately 20% of true value." From this premise the witness gave it as his conclusion that there was a general assessing standard of 20% of true value in use by the assessors of the municipality prior to 1954; and that this standard continued in 1954 and 1955 except as to the properties involved in this appeal and a few others. It was his own opinion that the subject properties had been assessed at 20% of true value prior to 1954. Taxpayers consequently argue that the increases in their assessments (applied in the tax year 1955 as well as 1954) are discriminatory and that the reductions granted by the county tax board, which were almost to the level of the 1953 figures, should have been affirmed. Schwenn gave his expert appraisal as to the true value of each of the properties as of the assessing dates for the tax years in question, and it is clear that application of a 20% ratio thereto would produce a figure in each case except one substantially in accord with the reduced assessments fixed by the county tax board. It is equally clear, however, that such figures would generally have exceeded the 1953 assessments (see table, infra).

The municipality, which had appealed the county board judgments, offered the testimony of a real estate expert, Charles Raia, as to the true value of the properties involved.

His valuations were generally substantially in excess of the true value appraisals given by Mr. Schwenn. The municipality offered no testimony concerning the method by which these properties, or property in the township generally, was assessed in either of the years in question or for prior years.

After hearing the evidence, a two-member panel of the Division of Tax Appeals filed a report, which was adopted as a basis for judgments by the Division, in which the following conclusions were arrived at: (1) it was not shown that Saddle Brook assessments as of prior to 1954 were generally fixed by the assessors at a uniform standard of 20% of true value; (2) that nevertheless, despite the absence of a showing of "direct or deliberate discrimination," the Division would apply to the true value of the properties what it referred to as "the common level." This was a misnomer, since it appears that by this it meant the average ratio which aggregate assessed valuations bore to aggregate true value of all property assessed. It decided to use for this purpose the average ratios which the Division had itself arrived at on review in other proceedings of the Bergen County Equalization Tables for the years 1954 and 1955, being, respectively, 21.8% and 20.2%. It then proceeded to make a determination of the true value of the respective properties, which it considered to be the same, as to each parcel, for both of the tax years in question. This was done upon an analysis of the appraisals and supporting testimony of the opposing experts and the placing thereon of the probative weight deemed deserved. To the true value determinations thus found the panel then applied the ratios mentioned and entered the resulting figures in each case as the recommended judgments, except where any such figure would exceed the amount of the assessment. These recommendations were the basis of the judgments under appeal. The appended table will show, for each of the properties in litigation, the 1953 and 1954 assessments, the judgments of the county board and of the State Division, and the true value appraisals of the experts. All 1954 figures apply also to the year 1955, except where otherwise specifically indicated.

Lot 1953 Ass't. 1954 Ass't. 1954 Co. Bd.

Lot 4, Bl. 153 $825 $6,436 $1,025

Lot 2, Bl. 154 6,173-12,840(I*fn** ) 17,850-30,150(I) 7,700-16,000(I)

Lot 3, Bl. 154 4,400 8,640 5,500

Lot 1, Bl. 159 3,500 10,055 4,400

Lot 1, Bl. 154 1,050 4,560 ...

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