Taxpayer appeals from a 1976 assessment of land-$114,200, improvements-$72,000, for a total of $186,200.
The subject property consists of approximately 22 acres of land adjoining the Rancocas Creek together with a dwelling, originally constructed about 1700, and outbuildings located thereon.
Plaintiff testified as follows:
He entered into an agreement of sale for the purchase of this property on February 23, 1976. Prior to the execution thereof, he and the real estate broker involved contacted the tax assessor's office and made inquiries concerning the assessment. They were advised that the assessment was $95,700 and that if a property were to sell for approximately double its assessment, the sale of that property would not be used as a guide to future assessments on that property but instead the basis would be the average sales price of that type house. Based upon his inquiries he assumed that even if he purchased the property for double its assessed value, it would have been assessed for 1976 at $100,000.
The original asking price to plaintiff for this property was $281,000 and after negotiations, a price of $200,000 was finally agreed upon. Prior to his executing the agreement he had his attorney contact the assessor to ascertain if the property could qualify for a farmland assessment. He was advised that it would not for 1976 but although there normally was a two-year waiting period, they could "negotiate" for 1977. Predicated upon his getting a farmland assessment for 1977, he executed this agreement of sale. Title was transferred on June 1, 1976. Shortly thereafter he received the second-half bill whereby the taxes were practically doubled by reason of the increased assessment.
The tax history of the subject property is as follows:
Land: $71,400 71,400 71,400
Improvements: $21,400 21,700 24,300
Total: $92,800 94,100 95,700
Plaintiff placed in evidence a letter dated February 23, 1976 from the tax assessor to the Burlington County Board of Taxation informing them that defendant had found two errors in the 1976 Tax Book of which one covered the subject property and increased the land assessment by $39,200 and the improvements by $47,000 resulting in the final assessment appealed from.
Plaintiff asserts since he was advised prior to his executing the agreement of sale that the assessment was $95,700, the municipality should be bound by this figure. He further urges it was not until after the assessor received knowledge of the agreement of sale did he decide to increase the assessment. Since this knowledge was not acquired until several months after October 1, 1975, plaintiff argues that the assessor should not have been permitted to change the assessment.
The assessor testified that the market conditions in Willingboro are constantly changing, therefore, each year he does his best to ascertain the fair market value of each property. The subject property is one of only three properties in the township which could qualify for a farmland assessment. In the summer of 1975 he contacted all three owners, including the then owner of the subject property one Joseph McCrane. to ascertain if the owners were going to apply for a farmland assessment. Mr. McCrane's property had previously enjoyed a farmland assessment, however, when he was appointed as a State of New Jersey ...