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Blair Academy v. Township of Blairstown

Decided: June 30, 1967.


Goldmann, Kilkenny and Collester. The opinion of the court was delivered by Kilkenny, J.A.D.


Township of Blairstown appeals from a judgment of the State Division of Tax Appeals setting aside assessments for taxes for the year 1963 on the ground that the subject buildings and improvements of Blair Academy were tax exempt under N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.6. Blair Academy appeals from a judgment of the State Division of Tax Appeals dismissing its appeals from assessments for taxes for the year 1965 because the petitions of appeal, as originally filed, did not assert tax exemption as the basis of the appeal. The appeals were consolidated for argument.

Blair Academy's claim of tax exemption for the years in issue is based on N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.6 which provides in pertinent part:

"The following property shall be exempt from taxation under this chapter: All buildings actually used for colleges, schools, academies or seminaries; * * * the land whereon any of the buildings hereinbefore mentioned are erected, and which may be necessary for the fair enjoyment thereof * * * and does not exceed 5 acres in extent; * * * provided * * * the buildings, or the lands on which they stand, or the associations, corporations or institutions using and occupying them as aforesaid, are not conducted for profit, * * *."

The State Division found that Blair Academy qualified for tax exemption under that statute as to the buildings under review.

There is substantial evidence in the record which supports this finding by the State Division. The school's existence dates back to 1848. From then until 1889 it was sustained in large measure by generous grants from John I. and Ann Blair. It was for many years operated by trustees responsible to the Presbytery of Newton and had close ties to the First Presbyterian Church. It is a boy's preparatory school whose students are for the most part boarders, coming as they do from widely scattered areas. Thus, at the time of the hearings before the State Division there were 306 boarding students and 19 day students more or less.

In 1928 the then State Board of Taxes and Assessments ruled that the school was not entitled to tax exemption because it had not been incorporated under the laws of New Jersey as authorized to carry out a purpose for which this exemption might be allowed, but was operating under three trust deeds under the control of and as a subsidiary to the Presbytery of Newton, New Jersey. This judgment was affirmed by the courts. Bd. Trustees, etc., Blair Academy v. State Bd. of Taxes and Assessments, 6 N.J. Misc. 498, 141 A. 789 (Sup. Ct. 1928), affirmed o.b. 106 N.J.L. 556 (E. & A. 1929).

To cure this deficiency Blair Academy incorporated in September 1928 as an educational corporation not for profit under the predecessor statute of our present Title 15. Legal title to the subject properties became vested in the Academy pursuant to several deeds of conveyance executed thereafter. The township recognized all of the school's buildings as tax exempt from 1928 until 1963. The Federal Government acknowledged its nonprofit status by exempting it from the payment of income tax and by granting it the usual franking privilege. Moreover, the record demonstrates that the school is a nonprofit organization within the interpretation laid down by us in City of Trenton v. State Division of Tax Appeals, 65 N.J. Super. 1 (1960), and in the case of Kimberly School v. Town of Montclair, 2 N.J. 28 (1949).

Despite its many buildings, Blair Academy had claimed up until 1965 only a total of five acres as tax exempt, paying taxes on the remainder. It voluntarily contributed $3,000 annually to the township treasury as a gesture of goodwill. As hereinafter noted, it furnished from its own supply free water for municipal purposes, the township merely supplying the hydrants. An harmonious and cooperative relationship existed until 1963 when the township levied tax assessments against eight houses used as residences by members of the faculty, the residence occupied by the school's full-time business manager, a maintenance shop and a so-called maintenance garage. This led to a withdrawal of the school's

voluntary contribution to the township treasury and the 1963 tax appeals.

The State Division properly held that the faculty houses were tax exempt. Pingry Corp. v. Hillside Tp., 46 N.J. 457 (1966), reversing 86 N.J. Super. 437 (App. Div. 1965), removes all doubt as to the propriety of that determination. The Supreme Court held that the seven Pingry faculty houses were "actually used" for school purposes and hence were tax exempt, even though the faculty members occupying them paid a nonprofit rental therefor and the use was solely for residential purposes. A fortiori, that same rule would be applicable to the eight faculty houses herein where occupancy is without any rental and the residences were used in part for consultations with students and similar school purposes.

As to the residence occupied by the business manager and treasurer, we agree with the State Division that this building was also tax exempt. This school official was required to live on the school grounds and to be available on a 24-hour a day basis. He was responsible not only for the school's financial affairs but also for maintenance of the properties and buildings, as well as attending to all of the Academy's business needs. He also acted as clerk at meetings of the board of trustees. A school official acting in these many capacities may be housed on the school's premises for the convenience of the institution. ...

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