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New Life Gospel Church v. State

Decided: June 11, 1992.

NEW LIFE GOSPEL CHURCH, APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY AFFAIRS, DIVISION OF HOUSING BUREAU OF FIRE SAFETY, RESPONDENT



On appeal from Division of Housing and Development, Department of Community Affairs.

King, Gruccio and Brochin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Gruccio, J.A.D.

Gruccio

The opinion of the court was delivered by

GRUICCIO, J.A.D.

New Life Gospel Church (the Church), a non-profit religious organization, appeals from a decision of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Division of Housing, Bureau of Fire Safety (the Department) which required the Church to pay a life hazard use registration fee pursuant to the Uniform Fire Safety Act (the Act), N.J.S.A. 52:27D-192 to -213.

The Church owns and operates the New Life Christian School, which is classified as a life hazard use*fn1 and is the subject of the registration fee. The Church filed a life hazard registration application for the school,*fn2 which it described as two buildings; a two-story constructed before 1900, and a one-story constructed in 1983. The use was described as a day care center and a grade school.

The Department issued the Church a life hazard use certificate of registration for its school, classifying it a life hazard use AE04.*fn3 The Church was assessed a $115 annual registration fee to be paid within 30 days.

The Church requested a hearing challenging the registration fee as an unlawful tax against a religious organization, and claimed an exemption. The Department denied the hearing request as untimely.*fn4

The Church claims that the registration fee is revenue raising and therefore a tax, which it, as a religious organization, is not required to pay. A tax is imposed by the government

for general revenue purposes. Holmdel Builders Ass'n v. Township of Holmdel, 121 N.J. 550, 582, 583 A.2d 277 (1990). If the primary purpose of a fee is to raise revenue, it is a tax. Id. (citing Daniels v. Borough of Point Pleasant, 23 N.J. 357, 129 A.2d 265 (1957)). The Supreme Court has noted that, in contrast to a tax, a fee is imposed under the government's police power to regulate. Holmdel Builders Ass'n v. Township of Holmdel, supra, 121 N.J. at 582-83, 583 A.2d 277; Parking Auth. of the City of Trenton v. City of Trenton, 40 N.J. 251, 259, 191 A.2d 289 (1963). A fee is not Judged a tax so long as the amount of the fee bears a reasonable relationship to the cost incurred by the government to regulate. United States v. Sperry Corp., et al., 493 U.S. 52, 60-61, 110 S. Ct. 387, 393-94, 107 L. Ed. 2d 290, 301-02 (1989); Parking Auth. of the City of Trenton v. City of Trenton, supra, 40 N.J. at 259, 191 A.2d 289. If a fee's primary purpose is to reimburse the municipality for services reasonably related to development, it is a permissible regulatory exaction. Daniels v. Borough of Point Pleasant, supra, 23 N.J. at 361, 129 A.2d 265.

We find the life hazard use registration fee a permissible regulatory exaction. The Act clearly states that the purpose of the registration fee is to recover the cost of enforcing the Act. Here, the Church has not sustained its burden of showing that the minimal registration fee imposed does not bear a reasonable relation to the annual cost of inspecting the two buildings comprising the New Life Christian School. Therefore, it is reasonably imposed.

The Church further contends that its religious nature constitutionally mandates exemption from the fee. Our Constitution states that property of religious organizations may be exempted from taxation. N.J.Const. art. VIII, § 1, para. 2. The Legislature has exempted property of religious organizations which is used exclusively for religious or charitable purposes from taxation. N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.6. However, entities exempted from taxes are not exempted from paying government

fees. Parking Auth. of City of Trenton v. City of Trenton, supra, 40 N.J. at 257, 191 A.2d 289 (tax exempt municipal parking authority not exempt from payment of building permit fees); Jersey City Sewerage Auth. v. Housing Auth. of the City of Jersey City, 70 N.J. Super. 576, 176 A.2d 44 (Law Div.1961), aff'd, 40 N.J. 145, 190 ...


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