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Village of Ridgefield Park v. Bergen County Board of Taxation

Decided: January 25, 1960.

VILLAGE OF RIDGEFIELD PARK, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, ET ALS., PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
BERGEN COUNTY BOARD OF TAXATION, ET ALS., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Weintraub, and Justices Burling, Francis, Proctor, Hall and Schettino. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Weintraub, C.J.

Weintraub

The Village of Ridgefield Park and several of its taxpayers filed a complaint in lieu of prerogative writs against the Bergen County Board of Taxation and the assessors of each of the other municipalities in Bergen County, seeking certain relief with respect to the assessment of real and personal property. Some of the assessors moved for judgment on the pleadings, and so also did the county board. Their motions were denied. The Appellate Division granted leave to appeal from the interlocutory orders, and prior to hearing thereon we certified the matter on motion.

Plaintiffs allege that in the Village of Ridgefield Park all real and personal properties were assessed at true value for the year 1959, but the county board and the defendant

assessors have "wilfully, deliberately and intentionally failed, neglected and refused to perform their duties and obligations" to achieve the same treatment of property in the remaining municipalities of the county. This allegation must of course be accepted as true on a motion addressed to the face of the pleadings. Plaintiffs seek to compel compliance for the year 1959 and thereafter, and also a restraint against collection from the Village of Ridgefield Park of an amount in excess of what its fair share of the cost of county government would be upon the assessment of all real and personal property at true value.

I.

It is urged that (1) the issuance of a mandamus would be contrary to the public interest and (2) plaintiffs should be remitted to an administrative remedy.

Both propositions were presented in Switz v. Middletown Township, 23 N.J. 580 (1957). There is no point in traversing again the ground fully explored in that case. Succinctly, the situation is this: The Constitution of 1947 provides in Article VIII, Section 1, paragraph 1:

"Property shall be assessed for taxation under general laws and by uniform rules. All real property assessed and taxed locally or by the State for allotment and payment to taxing districts shall be assessed according to the same standard of value; and such real property shall be taxed at the general tax rate of the taxing district in which the property is situated, for the use of such taxing district."

The Constitution does not require that all real property taxed locally or for local use shall be assessed at true value. Rather it requires all such real property to be assessed "according to the same standard of value," which may be a percentage of true value. But the statute, N.J.S.A. 54:4-1, provides that unless exempted it shall be subject to taxation "at its true value." The Constitution does not require that all personal property shall be taxed or that personal property,

if taxed, shall be assessed at true value. But, again, the statute just cited provides that all taxable tangible personal property shall be assessed "at its true value." See also R.S. 54:3-13 and N.J.S.A. 54:3-22; N.J.S.A. 54:4-12, 23, 47.

In Switz we discussed the long history of widespread failure to comply with the legislative mandate. We had before us and decided the question whether the court could properly look the other way. We agreed we could not. It is the singular situation of the judiciary that issues before it must be met and decided when presented. In this forum, action is inescapable for a court necessarily ...


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