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City of Trenton v. Mercer County Board of Taxation

Decided: December 2, 1977.

CITY OF TRENTON, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF NEW JERSEY, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
MERCER COUNTY BOARD OF TAXATION, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT



Fritz, Botter and Ard.

Per Curiam

This is an appeal by the City of Trenton from a final judgment of the Division of Tax Appeals (Division) affirming the county board's promulgation of the 1976 Mercer County Equalization Table (Table) pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:3-17 et seq. It was agreed below that the petition of appeal in the Division of Tax Appeals presented no material issue of fact and could be decided as a matter of law. Based on facts agreed upon by all involved, the Division granted summary judgment affirming the Table as prepared by the Mercer County Board of Taxation.

The sole issue on appeal is whether the exclusion of the receipts of the "Public Utility Gross Receipts Tax" (N.J.S.A. 54:30A-49 to N.J.S.A. 54:30A-67) from county tax apportionment under N.J.S.A. 54:3-17 et seq. and N.J.S.A. 54:4-49 is constitutional.

The equalization table is prepared to provide a basis for the fair distribution of the county tax burden among the municipalities of a particular county. Little Falls Tp. v. Passaic Cty. Bd. of Tax. , 115 N.J. Super. 115, 120 (App. Div. 1971), overruled in part [ Tp. of Willingboro v. Burlington Cty. Bd. of Tax. ] 62 N.J. 203, 218 (1972); Woodbridge v. Middlesex Cty. Bd. of Tax. , 96 N.J. Super. 532, 536 (App. Div. 1967). N.J.S.A. 54:3-17 et seq. expressly provides for the constituent elements which are to be considered in the preparation of the county equalization table by the county board. N.J.S.A. 54:4-49(a) provides in part:

In attacking the mandatory statutory equalization formula, appellant argues that although the apportionment of public utility gross receipts taxes provides revenues to municipalities

which directly affect the amount of real property taxes to be raised in each municipality, neither the amount of public utility gross receipts taxes apportioned to any municipality nor the apportionment valuation of the scheduled property (N.J.S.A. 54:30A-58) of any public utility taxpayer is treated as part of the valuation of the municipality on which county taxes are apportioned.

We are satisfied the factual allegations of appellant are correct; however, we find no basis to conclude that the exclusion of gross receipts revenue from county tax apportionment is improper. Appellant's argument that the exclusion of municipal revenue realized under N.J.S.A. 54:30A-61 is unconstitutional by virtue of the equal protection provisions of the State and Federal Constitutions is without merit. The same is true of its argument that its exclusion is in violation of the provisions of the State constitution forbidding special legislation respecting taxation or the regulation of municipal affairs.

We conceive of no constitutional requirement that all municipal revenue sources be treated in precisely the same manner in county tax apportionment. Nor is it necessary that a particular tax revenue be included in the equalization process. The legislative scheme which excludes from tax assessment roles and from local property taxation the scheduled property of public utilities as well as the gross receipts tax revenues is presumptively constitutional, and one challenging this legislative discretion bears a heavy burden to establish the absence of relevant distinctions and legitimate legislative aims. Thomas v. Kingsley , 43 N.J. 524, 530 (1965); Switz v. Kingsley , 37 N.J. 566, 586 (1962). Appellant has failed to meet this burden.

The statutes under attack employ uniform rules for all municipalities with respect to their revenue sources. Appellant, apparently recognizing this, argues that the Legislature's choice of one method of apportionment over another is unconstitutional. In In re Clifton v. Passaic Cty. Bd. of Tax. , 114 N.J. Super. 253 (App. Div. 1971), aff'g 108 N.J.

Super. 284 (Law Div. 1970), aff'd o.b. 60 N.J. 185 (1972), the court considered an analogous challenge to the choice of an equalization method for the business personal property replacement revenue that municipalities receive pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:11D-1 et seq. In that case the Appellate Division affirmed substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Simpson in the trial court opinion given in Ridgefield v. Kervick , 108 N.J. Super. 284 (Law Div. 1970), aff'd o.b. 60 N.J. 185 (1972), which was consolidated with the Clifton matter on appeal. In Ridgefield , with respect to the contention advanced in this case that some form of ...


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