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Meadowlands Regional Redevelopment Agency v. State

Decided: May 7, 1973.


For affirmance -- Chief Justice Weintraub, Justices Jacobs and Hall, and Judge Sullivan. Dissenting in part -- Justice Mountain, and Judges Conford and Lewis. Conford, P.J.A.D., Temporarily Assigned, dissenting in part. Justice Mountain and Judge Lewis join in this partly dissenting opinion.

Per Curiam

[63 NJ Page 38] This appeal involves the Hackensack Meadowlands Reclamation and Development Act and ancillary legislation L. 1968, c. 404, the constitutionality of which was upheld by the trial court in an opinion reported at 112 N.J. Super. 89 (Chan. Div. 1970).

The Act, N.J.S.A. 13:17-1 et seq., represents a legislative plan for the reclamation and development of the Hackensack meadowlands on a regional basis by a Commission constituting a political subdivision of the State, with intermunicipal sharing of the respective tax benefits and tax burdens resulting from the planned development. The ancillary legislation, N.J.S.A. 13:1 B -13.1 et seq. establishes a procedure for the resolution of title problems in meadowland properties throughout the State.

The trial court's opinion, supra, 112 N.J. Super. at 95-100, contains an outline of the procedural background of the case as well as a summary of the law's provisions which we find to be adequate and need not be repeated.

Although the legislation was attacked from numerous legal angles, the basic challenges to it were: (1) The Act was a special or local law not enacted in the manner prescribed by the New Jersey Constitution; (2) the Act provided an unconstitutional delegation of the legislative zoning power to the Commission; (3) the tax-sharing provisions (a) improperly delegated taxing power to the Commission, (b) imposed taxes on the constituent municipalities for the benefit of the entire State or of regions outside constituent municipalities, and provided an allotment of real property tax proceeds raised in some municipalities to other municipalities, and (c) were arbitrary in their application to the constituent municipalities.

Considerable evidence was presented to the trial court relating to the reasonableness of the classification of the Hackensack meadowlands as a separate district, as well as the boundaries fixed for such district.

The trial court in a comprehensive opinion found the Act to be a general law and the legislation to be constitutional and otherwise lawful, rejecting all of the contentions of invalidity raised by plaintiffs. We certified the appeal prior to hearing in the Appellate Division.

Argument was had before this Court on February 23, 1972. At the argument the Court expressed concern over the

fairness of the tax-sharing provisions as applied to constituent municipalities. Accordingly, the State was asked to submit available figures showing the projected operation of the tax-sharing provisions. Following receipt of such figures the Court requested a conference with counsel and their tax-sharing experts. At the conference it was indicated that the State might seek to have the tax-sharing provisions amended to remedy possible deficiencies therein. Upon being notified that the State proposed to have these provisions amended, this Court withheld decision.

Amendments were drafted and signed into law on July 19, 1972 (L. 1972, c. 103). All parties were given leave to exchange supplemental briefs addressed to the amended tax-sharing provisions and the matter was reargued on February 5, 1973. Because of the changed composition of the Court, the parties were afforded the opportunity to argue the entire appeal de novo.

We are in full agreement with the basic findings and conclusions of the trial court as to the issues raised and its upholding of the constitutionality and validity of the legislation. We find it necessary to specifically discuss only the contention that the amended tax-sharing provisions are arbitrary in their application to the constituent municipalities. We recognize that appellants also contend that the tax-sharing provisions of the Act, both as originally enacted and in their amended form, work an unconstitutional delegation of the taxing power as well as an unconstitutional allotment of local property tax revenues. However, these issues were decided by the trial court and its conclusions thereon, with which we agree (our acceptance of these conclusions should not be taken as a full adoption of the trial court's opinion dealing with these issues), are equally applicable to the amended provisions.*fn1

The principle underlying the tax-sharing provisions of the Act is that the regional development of the district under the Master Plan*fn2 will result in tax benefits to some areas within the district, as well as impose tax burdens or losses on other areas. The provisions, as amended, are intended to have constituent municipalities share equitably in these benefits and burdens.

The mechanism for achieving the sharing purpose centers around the "intermunicipal account" which is required to be set up on an annual basis and into which constituent municipalities will have an obligation to pay or a right to receive payments therefrom based on application of a statutory formula which converts the tax benefits and tax burdens into dollar payments into or out of the account.

The brief filed by the Attorney General summarizes the operation of the formula as follows:

"All increases in tax revenues, except those required to meet county taxes, between a base year (1970) and an 'adjustment year' attributed to increases in true value of the property in each municipality within the meadowlands district are ascertained, and a gradually increasing percentage of this revenue is payable by each municipality to the intermunicipal account. L. 1972, c. 103, § 4, N.J.S.A. 13:17-67. Each municipality, where eligible, is entitled to receive from the intermunicipal account guarantee payments (§ 5, N.J.S.A. 13:17-68), school district service payments (§ 7, N.J.S.A. 13:17-70), and an apportionment payment (§ 9, N.J.S.A. 13:17-72). Guarantee payments are made where a municipality's meadowland district tax base

has been contracted as a result of public acquisitions. School service payments are made to cover the costs of educating new meadowland district school pupils. The apportionment payment provides for the distribution of any remaining funds in the intermunicipal account on the basis of municipal acreage within the district.

N.J.S.A. 13:17-74 provides for the computation of the 'meadowlands adjustment payment' to or from each municipality. If a municipality's payment into the intermunicipal account exceeds the total amount of service payments it is entitled to receive out of the intermunicipal account, the difference is entered as a special line item appropriation in the municipal budget for that year and is paid in three annual installments to the intermunicipal account. N.J.S.A. 13:17-74(c). If the payment into the intermunicipal account is less than total payment out of the account, the difference is shown as 'miscellaneous revenues anticipated' in the municipal budget and is paid by the intermunicipal account in three equal installments. N.J.S.A. 13:17-74(b). This accounting procedure is adopted for ease of administration of the intermunicipal account. The 'meadowlands adjustment payment', a net figure, should not be confused with its two distinct components -- municipal payments into the account, and school service, guarantee and apportionment payments out of the account."

The amended provisions corrected a manifest inequity in the original formula which had used a single "apportionment rate" to calculate municipal payments to the intermunicipal account. This single rate, an average rate based on the combined budgets of all constituent municipalities, had an adverse effect on municipalities with low tax rates. The amendment provides for a separate "apportionment rate" for each municipality which is really its effective or true tax rate, excluding county expenses.

The method of computing the apportionment rate under the amendment is attacked on the ground that a municipality's non-district expenses will affect the amount payable by it to the intermunicipal fund. It is suggested that the only fair solution is a uniform assessment and tax rate for all participating municipalities, limited to the meadowlands district.

This concept, however, would require that the Commission have direct power to make assessments and levy taxes, an alternative which the Legislature rejected, and which some appellants have previously argued would be unconstitutional.

The amendment also eliminated the municipal and county service payments, but limited the amount payable by a municipality to 10% of the amount so calculated in 1973, increasing four percentage points a year to a maximum of 50% of the amount calculated in 1983 and thereafter. This limitation offsets the elimination of the municipal and county service payments by granting each municipality an exemption of 50% from tax sharing to cover the costs of non-school municipal services.

Argument is made that the 50% limitation on the amount payable by a municipality creates the likelihood of inadequate funds in the intermunicipal account with a resultant abatement of school service payments (N.J.S.A. 13:17-73), thereby prejudicing municipalities which incur additional school costs as a result of district development.

This argument is purely speculative at the present time. Moreover, a provision for abatement only of service payments to municipalities in the event of inadequate funds in the account is not on its face arbitrary, particularly in light of the stated purpose of the guarantee payment, the only other kind of payment provided for except for surplus distribution.

The provision for a service payment to a municipality for school district services was retained in recognition of the fact that residential development provided for in certain of the municipalities under the Master Plan with attendant increase in school costs, as contrasted with industrial or commercial development provided for in other municipalities, would have an unequal impact on local budgets.

The amendment also revised the method of computing the guarantee payment to a municipality. The purpose of this payment is to protect a municipality against loss of tax ratables in the district. However, it was ascertained that under the original legislation a municipality could become entitled to a guarantee payment even though it lost no meadowland property from its tax rolls, but had merely revalued such ratables. The amendment restricts the guarantee

payment to a situation where there has been a loss of tax ratables in the district through public acquisition.

It is argued that the amended tax-sharing provisions are arbitrary because payments to the intermunicipal account are unrelated to and not determined by expenditures out of the account. However, these provisions are designed not merely to offset tax burdens resulting from the regional development, but also to have all constituent municipalities share in resultant tax benefits.

This is accomplished by distribution of what remains of the tax benefits, after compensating for whatever tax burdens have been sustained. Use of an acreage basis to distribute this surplus maintains the equitable sharing-of-benefit concept and is not on its face arbitrary.

The formula's selection of 1970 as the base year and the fixing of a two-year spread between the comparison year and the adjustment year is also attacked as arbitrary. Specifically, it is urged that a base year, to have a rational basis, should reflect the date of the adoption of the Master Plan, and that the two-year spread will result in a municipality incurring immediate school costs from District development which will not be calculated in the school service payments for two years.

Selection of the calendar year 1970 as the base year has a rational basis. This was the year in which the Commission adopted and put into effect interim zoning regulations on land use throughout the District. Since the meadowlands adjustment payment (which includes the school district service payment) is required to be certified to each municipality by February 1st of each year, there has to be some financial time lag in the computation. Use of the adjustment year (the same year used in calculating the apportionment rate as well as the increase in aggregate true value of taxable real property in the District), has not been shown to be arbitrary.

The amended tax-sharing provisions present a mechanism for sharing tax benefits and burdens within the District which on its face appears to be rational and fair to constituent

municipalities. Experience with the formula will undoubtedly put it in better perspective and establish if, where and how changes are needed to accomplish its purpose. In any event, should a constituent municipality demonstrate that the tax-sharing provisions as actually applied to it work an arbitrary result, it will have the right to secure judicial relief. All we now decide is that the amended provisions have not been shown to be arbitrary on their face.

Some additional matters require brief comment. In the proceedings filed in the Appellate Division under N.J.S.A. 1:7-4 it was contended that the legislation was not signed by the Governor within ten days after presentation as required by N.J. Const., Art. V, § I, par. 14(b). The record clearly is to the contrary. The bill, as amended, was presented to the Governor on January 10, 1969 and signed by him three days later. The trial court so held in the proceedings before it. Its finding is clearly correct.

It is also argued that the establishment of the Sports and Exposition Complex excludes from the District an integral part of the meadowlands thereby impairing the basic purpose of the Act and rendering arbitrary a classification predicated upon the original purpose. This contention was not raised before the trial court or in the Appellate Division.

The argument's premise is invalid. The Sports and Exposition Complex established under N.J.S.A. 5:10-1 et seq. is not at odds with the purpose of the Meadowlands Act. Rather it is a carefully planned development, fully within the objectives of the Act and in furtherance of the aim of overall reclamation and development of the meadowlands.

It is also contended that the Act provides for zoning areas in the District for park, recreational and other public purposes, but makes no provision for compensating the owners thereof.

This argument is also invalid. If privately owned property in the District is zoned for a public use by the Commission, the land will have to be condemned and the owners

compensated. The Attorney General represents that available Federal and State funds, including Green Acres' funds, will be ...

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