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Konya v. Township of Readington

Decided: March 6, 1959.

KALMAN KONYA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF READINGTON, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



Goldmann, Conford and Freund. The opinion of the court was delivered by Goldmann, S.j.a.d.

Goldmann

Plaintiff appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court, Law Division, upholding the validity of the Readington Township ordinance regulating and licensing trailer coach parks.

Plaintiff has since 1951 owned and operated a trailer camp in Readington Township with accommodations for 20 trailers, including the one occupied by him and his family on a permanent basis. There is a building on the property used for toilet and laundry facilities. None of the trailers is installed on a permanent foundation and, except for plaintiff's, none is assessed for property taxation. There are presently ten children residing in the trailer camp, including plaintiff's two. One of the ten attends the township high school and the others the elementary school. Plaintiff's trailer camp is now the only one in the township.

On May 15, 1957 the township adopted a comprehensive ordinance "to provide for the licensing and regulation of trailer coach parks." In addition to imposing license fees, it contained regulations relating to trailer camp plans and facilities, water supply, sanitation facilities, laundry facilities, sewage and refuse disposal, fire protection, supervision and inspection, as well as a penalty provision. Plaintiff at once instituted an action in lieu of prerogative writs to review and set aside the ordinance as invalid or, in the alternative, to have certain sections, including the licensing section, declared void. Following the pretrial conference defendant amended its ordinance in an attempt to meet certain of plaintiff's objections. Thereafter, at the opening of the trial, plaintiff pointed out to the trial judge that certain provisions, by reason of the amendments, had become inconsistent and self-contradictory, or had been made so vague and uncertain in meaning as to render the whole ordinance or certain essential parts thereof nugatory. The township offered to correct these defects by amendment and, with plaintiff's approval, it was agreed that the court would, in deciding the case, pass upon and point out such defects as required correction, indicating how they should be corrected,

and defendant would then proceed to amend accordingly. The court did this at the close of its oral opinion, deferring entry of judgment until the township had had an opportunity to adopt the necessary amendatory ordinance. Such ordinance was adopted and the trial court then entered the judgment in favor of defendant here under appeal.

The only issue on appeal relates to the legal propriety and reasonableness of section 4 of the ordinance relating to license fees. That section announced that a license fee shall be imposed "for the purpose of raising revenue" -- an annual trailer park license fee of $50, and a fee of $6 per trailer per month, or $1.50 per week or fraction thereof where trailer occupancy is less than one month, both payable by the operator to the township clerk. Plaintiff does not argue any invalidity or unreasonableness of the annual license fee, but asserts that the monthly fee imposed on each trailer site occupancy is invalid and should be set aside. The claim is that the fee far exceeds the regulatory cost; that it is prohibitory or confiscatory, bearing no reasonable relation to the value of the privilege conferred, citing Edwards v. Mayor, etc., of Moonachie , 3 N.J. 17, 26 (1949); that it cannot be sustained on the basis of what our Supreme Court said in Salomon v. Jersey City , 12 N.J. 379 (1953), nor under the test announced by that court in Bellington v. East Windsor Township , 17 N.J. 558 (1955). Plaintiff characterizes the monthly license fee as a special tax, having no lawful or reasonable justification under N.J.S. 40:52-1 and 2.

The frank testimony of the municipal officials was that the monthly fee was a means of indirectly collecting from each trailer tenant what the township committee felt was his fair share of the cost of municipal services furnished or available to him, to the same extent as persons residing in conventional homes. Although the township has no water or sewage system, or paid police department, it supplies elementary and high schools (with transportation thereto), roads, health services through a paid health inspector and another inspector paid on a per call basis, and fire protection

through volunteer companies aided by the governing body. There was evidence that the average homeowner pays a tax of $200 to $250 per year; the comparable charge under the monthly license fee would be $72.

The trial judge concluded in an oral opinion that plaintiff's objection to the monthly license fee as being in reality a special tax, illegal because beyond municipal power and authority, was not valid -- and this on the authority of the Bellington case. He also held that plaintiff had not sustained the burden of proof which was his in establishing that the amount of the monthly fee was unreasonably high and confiscatory; that "[W]hile there is no substantial evidence to show that it bears any real relation to the cost of administration of the regulatory features of the ordinance, that does not appear to be the test or even a test, with respect to a trailer camp ordinance in view of the language of the Bellington case." He said that, looking at the license fee section from the standpoint of its effect on a trailer camp owner's income or profit, the $50 annual fee, to which plaintiff made no objection, could not be considered to have any real effect on the owner's return from his business. He observed that the monthly fee would be passed on to each trailer occupant, and that there was not a sufficient showing that it would thereby put the plaintiff out of business or seriously affect his trade by reason of competition with trailer parks in other municipalities where the total charge to a trailer tenant might be slightly lower. Plaintiff had attempted to show that he was operating at a loss or on a very small margin of profit, allowing for his own time and effort. As to this, the trial judge said that even if it were so, the amount of the fee, which was not on its face disproportionately large compared with revenue, need not be governed by the operating figures of one particular trailer camp owner who may or may not be a good businessman. He aptly pointed out that the Supreme Court had sustained, as not unreasonable, trailer camp license fees both greater in amount and having a much larger ratio to the monthly

rental charged the tenants by the operator than in the present case, referring to the ...


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