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Vornado, Inc. v. Township of Woodbridge

New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division


Decided: October 27, 1976.

VORNADO, INCORPORATED, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF WOODBRIDGE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT

Lynch, Milmed and Antell. The opinion of the court was delivered by Milmed, J.A.D.

Milmed

[144 NJSuper Page 464]

The Township of Woodbridge appeals from judgments of the Division of Tax Appeals reducing local property assessments for the years 1973 and 1974 on certain real property owned by Vornado, Incorporated.

The judge of the Division who heard the matter found "the true value of the property to be as assessed." He then proceeded: (a) to find "as a fact that a common level did not exist in the Township of Woodbridge in 1973 and 1974," and (b) to determine that the average ratio promulgated by the Director of the Division of Taxation "for the two years 86.73%" would apply.

The finding that no common level of assessment existed in the township for the years in question could not reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence in the record. We are "thoroughly satisfied that the finding is clearly a mistaken one and so plainly unwarranted that the interests of justice demand intervention and correction." State v. Johnson , 42 N.J. 146, 162 (1964). It is clear from the entire record, and we so find, that Woodbridge assessed at a common level in 1973-1974, and that plaintiff taxpayer was assessed at that level. A revaluation of the assessed properties in the township, made by an independent appraisal firm, was put into effect for the tax year 1970 as of October 1, 1969. Assessments at 50% of true value, the county ratio at the time, were maintained for the tax years 1970 through 1972.*fn1 For 1973 the county board of taxation ordered assessments to be at 100% of true value. In order to comply, the local tax assessor testified:

We incremented all appraised values from the year 1969 by 25 percent and applied that factor to the 100 percent value of all real estate in the municipality.

[144 NJSuper Page 465]

He stated that he based the increment of 25% over the 1969 value primarily on an inflationary factor, viz. ,

For the tax year 1974 the 1973 level was, in effect, maintained. In regard to plaintiff's property, the only major change from the 1973 to the 1974 assessments was the addition of the cost of a new building.*fn2 Plaintiff concedes that it "is being assessed at 100% of true value."

The local assessor emphasized in his testimony that the township was attempting to maintain a common level of assessment,*fn3 and the evidence reveals reasonably consistent adherence to that goal.*fn4 Compare, In re Appeals of Kents 2124 Atlantic Ave., Inc. , 34 N.J. 21, 27 (1961), where the court pointed out that "The assessors themselves, in their

[144 NJSuper Page 466]

testimony upon the remand, disavowed consciousness of a specific ratio and portrayed the total picture as the hit-and-miss product of years of inattention."

Here, as in Tri-Terminal Corp. v. Edgewater , 68 N.J. 405 (1975), and Piscataway Assoc., Inc. v. Piscataway , 139 N.J. Super. 276 (App. Div. 1976),

Plaintiff taxpayer has not met the Kents ' criterion, viz. , "A taxpayer who seeks a reduction of an assessment below true value must prove that his share of the total tax burden substantially exceeds the share allocated to others generally." 34 N.J. at 33. And see, Tri-Terminal, supra , 68 N.J. at 412. Beyond this, as the record here shows, Woodbridge assessed at a common level in 1973-1974, and the subject property was assessed at that level. In the circumstances, the Division judge erred in applying the Director's ratios to give discrimination relief.*fn5

[144 NJSuper Page 467]

The judgments under review are reversed and the original assessments on the subject property for the tax years 1973 and 1974 are reinstated. The matter is remanded to the Division of Tax Appeals for the entry of appropriate judgments consistent herewith.


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