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Borough of Wood-Ridge v. Bergen County Board of Taxation

Decided: July 17, 1970.

THE BOROUGH OF WOOD-RIDGE, BERGEN COUNTY, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
BERGEN COUNTY BOARD OF TAXATION AND DIVISION OF TAX APPEALS, IN THE DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY, STATE OF NEW JERSEY, RESPONDENTS



Kilkenny, Labrecque and Leonard. The opinion of the court was delivered by Labrecque, J.A.D.

Labrecque

The Borough of Wood-Ridge (borough) appeals from a judgment of the Division of Tax Appeals (Division) affirming the 1969 equalization table adopted by the Bergen County Board of Taxation (county board).

Prior to the preparation of the 1969 equalization table Wood-Ridge had undergone a revaluation program. In arriving at its ratio for the year 1969 the county board utilized the "page 8 formula" suggested by the Director of the Division of Taxation (Director) for use in the case of revalued districts. See In re Millburn , 110 N.J. Super. 330 (App. Div. 1970). In the computation of the average assessment ratio for a revalued district under that formula, the true value of real property for the revalued district, as set forth in the Director's table of equalized valuations for school aid for the prior year, is used. (Here it was based upon the aggregate assessed ratables as of January 1, 1968.) To this is added the value of additional and new ratables, such as new construction and improvements, and property transferred from exempt to taxable. After deducting the value of ratables lost by fire, demolition, and transfers from taxable to exempt, the remaining total, designated as "net true value at beginning of the new year," is then divided into the aggregate of the assessments produced by the revaluation. The resulting figure is utilized as the ratio of that district's assessments as compared to the true value of its ratables (the ratio).

In preparing the 1969 equalization table in January 1969 the county board assigned to Wood-Ridge a preliminary ratio of 98.02%. On February 18 this was revised to 89.12% Following a hearing the county board promulgated the 1969

table, in which its ratio was fixed at 89.12%. On appeal to the Division the table was affirmed.

The main thrust of the borough's argument is directed to the refusal of the county board, in arriving at its "net true value," to give recognition to the fact that in 1969 it had suffered a loss in ratables, in the case of one taxpayer alone, of $5,562,300. The loss in question resulted from judgments reducing the assessed valuations for 1966, 1967 and 1968 on property of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, the borough's largest taxpayer, from $27,652,300 to $22,000,000 on appeals which had sought a reduction to $12,957,700. The appeals were settled in the Division for 1966 and 1967 and in the county board for 1968. Additional appeals for 1965 were withdrawn. Prior to settlement Curtiss-Wright had been withholding $45,000 per quarter of its billed taxes for the years 1966, 1967 and 1968 pending the outcome of its appeals. The values for 1966, 1967 and 1968 were substantially similar. It was undisputed that Curtiss-Wright's total ratables in Wood-Ridge represented more than 40% of the borough's tax roll. The failure to allow credit for the reductions allegedly brought about a difference of 7% in its ratio.

At the conclusion of the hearing in the Division the judge expressed himself as inclined to agree with the borough, but reserved decision. In his opinion filed some two months later he concluded that "The municipality has failed to overcome the presumption that the County Board's Equalization Table was correct," thus affirming the county board's ratio.

The Borough argues that the county Board failed to follow the statutory mandate to use its best judgment and information, and its overall obligation to treat it with fairness and equality in determining its assessment ratio. Respondent urges that the use of the page 8 formula was proper as having been approved in our prior decision in In re Millburn, supra.

While the county equalization table prepared pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:3-17 somewhat resembles the table of equalized valuations which the Director is required to promulgate

on or before October 1 of each year for purposes of state school aid, N.J.S.A. 54:1-35.1, the county equalization table is for the purpose of apportioning the cost of county government among the various taxing districts, while the state school aid table is utilized in the distribution of school aid to the various school districts throughout the State entitled to share therein. Thus, any increase in the ratio of the taxing district results in a reduction in the amount that district must contribute to the cost of county government, and the difference must be made up by the remaining districts. In the case of state school aid, on the contrary, a reduction or increase in the amount payable to the school district does not affect the amount payable to other districts. In practice, many county boards follow the Director's table as accurately reflecting the equalization ratios for the following year. See Passaic v. Passaic County Bd. of Taxation , 18 N.J. 371 (1955). The practice is not universal, however. See Woodbridge v. Middlesex County Bd. of Taxation , 96 N.J. Super. 532 (App. Div. 1967).

The purpose of the equalization process is to minimize as far as possible the unfair distribution of the county tax burden which is one result of varying assessment ratios among the municipalities in the county. No specific method of achieving that objective has been prescribed by the Legislature, its sole direction being that the board is to apply "its best knowledge and information" to the task. In consequence it has been held that a county board may in a proper case adopt the ratios promulgated by the Director's table of equalized valuations, or may arrive at its own ratios using a method varying somewhat from that used by the Director. ...


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