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Township of Berkeley Heights v. Division of Tax Appeals

Decided: June 30, 1961.


Foley, Lewis and Fusco. The opinion of the court was delivered by Fusco, J.s.c. (specially assigned).


This is an appeal by the Township of Berkeley Heights, Union County, from a determination of the Division of Tax Appeals, Department of the Treasury, State of New Jersey affirming the Union County Equalization Table for 1960. Appellant had challenged the Table before the county board on January 25, 1960, but the board adopted the final Table without change on March 10, 1960. Review of the Table was had before the Division of Tax Appeals pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:2-37 and in the opinion filed by Commissioner Doherty, it was said: "We cannot say that the method of equalization used here was unreasonable or arbitrary."

The Boroughs of Kenilworth and Garwood and also the Township of Springfield appeared in this case as defendants-respondents since its outcome would materially affect their tax burden along with the tax burdens of the other municipalities in Union County.

The questions presented in this appeal are whether the Union County Tax Board erred in accepting a ratio for Class IV property predicated on a single sale at $10,000 for a parcel of land assessed at $1,250; whether in its discretion it should have considered a consent judgment entered by the Division of Tax Appeals to which was attached an affidavit by the Assessor of the Township of Berkeley Heights alleging that property of Bell Laboratories was assessed using a ratio of 20; and finally whether the board should have stratified the several types of properties within Class IV so as to arrive at a ratio of 18.21.

The Union County Board of Taxation after hearing argument by appellant fixed the overall equalization ratio of assessed to true value for the township for the year 1960 at 14.82 and, in so doing, adopted the ratio previously established by the State Director of Taxation for distribution of school aid. The State Director in order to arrive at this overall ratio of 14.82 compared the recent sales of real property in each of the four classes of property within the

township, to the assessed value of the properties sold, and in so doing a ratio was established in each of the four classes of property. By weighting these four ratios (i.e. , 11.52, 18.23, 18.23, and 12.50) in proportion to the percentage of property in each class in the township the overall average ratio of 14.82 was reached. The ratio which was established with respect to the Class IV (commercial, office, industrial and research and multiple family) property (82% of which consists of the Bell Telephone Laboratories' property) was based upon a single sale, during the two-year base period, of a tract of land 50' x 148' upon which there existed a building encompassing 485 sq. ft. This tract was assessed at $1,250 and sold for $10,000. Thus by dividing $10,000 into $1,250, a ratio of 12.50 was established. There is no question presented as to the bona fide nature of this sale and, in fact, the assessor testified that it was fair. Nor is there any dispute as to any of the other facts involved in this case.

It is the appellant's contention, however, that since 82% of the Class IV property consists of the Bell Telephone Laboratories' property, the use of this single sale is not a fair sampling of the property, encompassed within Class IV and is therefore so inaccurate as to be arbitrary and consequently unconstitutional.

Equalization of assessments has for its general purposes:

"the adjustment of aggregate valuations of property, as between the different counties of the state or between the different taxing districts of the same county, so that the share of the whole tax imposed on each county or district shall be justly proportioned to the value of taxable property within its limits, in order that one county or district shall not pay a higher tax in proportion to the value of its taxable property, than another." 84 C.J.S. Taxation § 489, p. 926. See also City of Passaic v. Passaic County Board of Taxation , 18 N.J. 371 to 377 (1955).

In pursuing this function of equalization of assessments it is recognized that absolute equality is an impossibility

and that even if some inequality should result this fact alone is not sufficient to make the action taken by the county board arbitrary or unreasonable. Borough of Totowa v. Passaic County Board of Taxation , 5 N.J. 454, 464 (1950). Moreover, the principle by which we are to be guided in such cases is the constitutional mandate that property shall be uniformly assessed, N.J. Const. Art. 8, § 1, Para. 1. The general rule, therefore, in light of this mandate, in such cases is that where it is not possible to attain uniformity and equality together with the ...

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