On appeal from a final judgment of the New Jersey Tax Court - Camden County.
Bischoff and King. The opinion of the court was delivered by Bischoff, P.J.A.D.
This is an appeal by defendant Township of Voorhees from a final judgment of the Tax Court, 3 N.J. Tax. 63 (N.J. Tax.) which vacated certain omitted assessments that had been added by the Camden County Board of Taxation.
Plaintiff Cherry Hill Industrial Properties owns six lots in defendant township which were assessed as farmland for the years 1977 and 1978. The taxes for these years were paid.
A new tax assessor assumed office January 1, 1978, and upon reviewing the records failed to find form FA-1 (a form submitted by an applicant seeking a farmland assessment) on file for the six lots in question for either 1977 or 1978. Under N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.6, a property owner is required to apply for
agricultural valuation on or before August 1 preceding each tax year.
In mid-1978 an FA-1 form was sent to plaintiff for the tax year 1979. The form was not returned; the land received a regular assessment and the taxes were paid in full.
In September 1979 the assessor determined that the six lots had improperly received beneficial farmland assessments for 1977 and 1978, since no applications had been filed for those years. He classified the property as an "omitted assessment" for those years in order to recover the difference between the farmland assessment and the full assessment. He testified this was not a "roll-back" situation where there had been a change in the use of the land during a tax year resulting in a reversion to a full assessment for the two prior years. Instead, he proceeded under the alternate method of assessing omitted property pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:4-63.31 et seq. He had the property listed on the county computer for the years 1977 and 1978, the omitted assessment list was approved by the county board of taxation, and the tax collector billed plaintiff for the difference between the amount paid and the full assessment. This amount was not paid and is the subject of this appeal.
Plaintiff appealed the additional assessment and in the Tax Court argued that (1) defendant failed to follow statutory procedures for assessing omitted property as set out in the roll-back provisions and (2) the property was not subject to farmland roll-back taxes for 1977 and 1978 under N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.9.
The Tax Court held that since the property had been treated as an omitted assessment, it was not necessary to determine whether the property was subject to roll-back or whether the roll-back procedure had been properly followed. The Tax Court ruled, however, that plaintiff's tracts of land had been improperly treated as omitted property since there was no proof that the FA-1 applications had not been filed, and it was therefore presumed the original assessments were valid, relying upon In re Kresge-Newark, Inc., 30 N.J. Super. 489 (App.Div.1954).
The Tax Court judge further held that plaintiff's lots were not omitted property, as contemplated by either the original act regarding omitted property, N.J.S.A. 54:4-63.12 et seq., or the alternate act on omitted property, N.J.S.A. 54:4-63.31 et seq. He held the property may have been improperly assessed, but it was not omitted and, if improperly valued or assessed and the municipality desired to contest the accuracy of the original assessment, the municipality should have done so by a timely appeal to the county board of taxation by August 15 of each of the tax years in ...