On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Sussex County.
Michels, King and Edward Gaulkin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Michels, P.J.A.D.
Plaintiffs Luv Condominium Association (Luv) and Stonegate Village Condominium Association (Stonegate) appeal from a judgment of the Law Division that dismissed their challenge to an ordinance of defendant Borough of Stanhope (Stanhope) that revised the sewer user charges for the municipal sewer system.
The facts giving rise to this appeal are as follows: In the early 1960's, a plan was developed for the construction of a public sewer system for the Lake Musconetcong basin. This sewer system, now completed, encompasses Stanhope, which is located in Sussex County, and the Borough of Netcong and parts of Roxbury Township and Mount Olive Township, all of which are located in Morris County. In 1965, Stanhope and Netcong created the Musconetcong Sewerage Authority (authority) pursuant to the Sewerage Authorities Law (N.J.S.A. 40:14A-1, et seq.) to treat the effluent collected by the sewer systems of the four municipalities. The authority constructed the sewer plant and the interceptor lines. Each municipality remained responsible for construction and maintenance of trunk lines and collector lines. The authority bills each municipality quarterly based upon the number of gallons of effluent from the municipality that it treats. The municipal sewer system of Stanhope was constructed between 1967 and 1979. Phase I, consisting of 680 sewer connections, was completed in 1969. Phase II, consisting of 220 sewer connections, was completed in 1979. As the phases of the sewer system became operative, Stanhope enacted and subsequently revised an ordinance establishing the rates for use
of the system. Charges for items such as inoperable meters, connection permit fees, connection fees and inspection fees were also set by ordinance.
The Luv complex is located on a 30 acre tract of land in the western section of Stanhope. Construction on the development began in 1973 and was completed in 1981. The complex contains 340 housing units which are grouped in 19 buildings. Luv's developer constructed 168 linear feet of pipe off the condominium site to connect with the existing municipal sewer system. It also constructed 10,872 linear feet of sewer line and 77 manholes on the site. These sewer lines were tied to the municipal sewer system in March 1972. None of the on-site improvements, including the sewer lines, have ever been dedicated to or accepted by Stanhope. Luv is required to maintain and repair the sewer lines within the complex. Pursuant to an agreement with the developer, Lenape Valley Regional High School also uses the sewer lines constructed by Luv in order to connect with the municipal sewer system.
The Stonegate complex is located in the northwestern section of Stanhope. Construction on this complex proceeded between 1973 and 1975. It consists of 103 units located within 11 buildings on a 21 acre site. As with the Luv complex, the Stonegate developer constructed 1420 linear feet of pipe off the condominium site to connect with the municipal sewer system. It also placed 5693 linear feet of sewer pipe and 29 manholes on the site. Three private residences located within the complex use the Stonegate sewer lines under an agreement with the developer to connect with the municipal sewer system. None of the on-site improvements, including the sewer lines, have ever been dedicated to or accepted by defendant, and Stonegate is required to repair and maintain the on-site sewer lines.
Since its creation, the Luv complex has been serviced by a single water meter and, prior to March 10, 1981, was treated as a single customer of the municipal sewer system. The same is true of the Stonegate complex.
On March 10, 1981 Stanhope adopted an ordinance establishing the following sewerage user charges:
Single-family and multifamily residences and all other [Fee]
buildings, unless otherwise exempt:
For each single-family residence and each unit of a [$] 150.00
multifamily residence in which the sewer use is
measured by a water meter, annually.
In addition thereto, for actual use, as measured by .88
the water meter, per thousand gallons.
Nonfunctioning and unreadable meters, per day, .65
per unit, from the date of the last reading.
For all unmetered single-family residences, unmet- 216.00
ered multifamily and all other unmetered buildings,
Service to unimproved lot, annually. 102.00
For all other buildings, actual usage as measured by
the water meter, per thousand gallons. $3.15
For the purposes of this section, all individual multifamily units serviced only by a water meter for the building or group of buildings in which the unit is located shall each be considered a metered unit.
All of the above sewer charges for single-family residences, multifamily residences and all other buildings may be billed on an annual, semiannual or quarterly billing; the flat rate charge and the corresponding gallonages shall be prorated accordingly.
Under this ordinance the single-family residence fee of $150 per year plus usage charge is applicable to condominium units. Thus, although the Luv complex is still serviced by a single water meter, each unit owner is now billed as if his condominium has a separate water meter. The same is true of Stonegate unit owners. There are approximately 150 other ...