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Kline v. Bellmawr Sewerage Authority

Decided: March 25, 1959.


Schalick, J.s.c.


This is a suit by plaintiff taxpayer seeking to invalidate the proposed sewer rates established by the defendant sewerage authority, and requiring the defendant to establish fair, just, uniform and equitable rates.

Plaintiff resides in Bellmawr in a section not previously connected with the municipal sewerage system. Under the formulated sewer proposal which will result in connecting plaintiff's property and other properties with the defendant's sewer system, rates have been fixed for District Two of $66 per year, and in the old or sewered section named District One the annual sewer rates shall be $40 per year. These districts were defined by "A resolution prescribing charges, rules and regulations relating to connection with and use of services of the sewerage system of the Bellmawr Sewerage Authority," adopted on June 18, 1957. The resolution fixes the service charge for the unsewered section at $66 per year and for the present sewered section at $44 per year, and all service charges for each type of property are fixed proportionate to the base service charge set up in each district.

Plaintiff seeks to void the $66 per year service charge and to require defendant to establish uniform service charges which plaintiff contends would be just and equitable.

The facts were stipulated, the resolution admitted in evidence, together with a map of the proposed sewerage project explained in the stipulation.

The stipulations were:

The Borough of Bellmawr is a long and narrow municipality.

Prior to the reconstruction of the present sewer plant, about one-third of the western end of the municipality was serviced by sewer. The plant was a primary treatment plant, erected by the United States during World War II as part of the Bellmawr Housing Development.

The plant was donated to the Borough of Bellmawr, without cost, by the United States Government.

Gradually, the one-third of the community which was sewered was hooked up to the primary treatment plant by various developers. They paid the cost of hooking in and they passed on that cost to the purchasers of homes; they also made their own installation of mains, laterals, force mains, where necessary, and in two cases pumping stations. No work was done by the municipality at public cost except for two installations. Both were trunk lines, one a short line which cost $2,500 and was paid for out of an appropriation, so that it was paid for out of general taxation; the other trunk line was constructed in Browning Road, and it was paid for by a $45,000 bond issue, plus a contribution from the United States Government. That trunk line was constructed in the sewered area to the site of Niki installation by the United States Government. No improvements were made in the sewered area as local improvements.

In 1953, the State Board of Health of the State of New Jersey ordered the Borough of Bellmawr to reconstruct the primary treatment plant into a secondary treatment plant. The engineers employed by the municipality calculated that the cost of that change-over would be $225,000 but with engineering fees, financial costs, and counsel fees, the cost would be increased to $340,000.

The soil in the unsewered area constitutes for the most part a heavy clay or marl. It was unsuitable for cesspools

which were in use, and frequently those cesspools overflowed and created a health hazard. There was some demand for the sewering of the remaining area of the municipality.

The engineers calculated the cost of putting sewers in the remaining area at $935,529, but with financial costs, engineering fees, and counsel fees that figure was increased to an approximate $1,360,000.

The municipality considered doing the work of changing the treatment plant into a secondary treatment plant under a bond issue, in which event it would be a charge on all the taxpayers as a general improvement. They also considered doing the work as a local improvement, but it was ascertained that in some instances the mains would have to be laid as deep as 18 feet, and it was possible for a home owner having 100 feet of frontage, to be faced with an assessment of approximately $2,500. That was considered by the municipality to be prohibitory; moreover, the borrowing capacity of the municipality had almost reached its limit, and it could not even borrow the $340,000 to change over the treatment plant.

As a result, the defendant was formed; the municipality donated the plant, mains, laterals, rights of way, and pumping stations and equipment to the defendant without charge, but subject to the $45,000 bond ...

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