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Hovbilt, Inc. v. Township of Howell

Decided: April 6, 1993.

HOVBILT, INCORPORATED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF HOWELL, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from Tax Court of New Jersey.

J.h. Coleman, A.m. Stein and Conley. The opinion of the court was delivered by Coleman, J.h., P.J.A.D. A.m. Stein, J.A.D., Dissenting.

Coleman

In this tax appeal case, the taxpayer appeals from a judgment finding that an error made by the tax assessor in not assessing plaintiff's property pursuant to the Farmland Assessment Act of 1964, N.J.S.A. 54:4-23.1 et seq., could not be corrected under the Correction of Errors Statute, N.J.S.A. 54:51A-7. We affirm.

The controlling facts are not disputed. In 1984, plaintiff acquired title to approximately 35 acres of unimproved land known as Lots 16 and 24, Block 142, on Route 524 at Wycoff Road, Howell Township, New Jersey. The property is raw farmland. Between the 1985 and 1990 tax years, plaintiff's application for the land to be assessed as farmland pursuant to the Farmland Act was granted. For the 1991 tax year, plaintiff also filed a timely application for a farmland assessment which

was never considered by the tax assessor because it was apparently misplaced or misfiled.

During June or July, 1991, plaintiff received the tax bill for the property, reflecting that the property had been assessed at its market value of $556,300 rather than as farmland. In its brief, plaintiff states that it "did not file a timely appeal for the 1991 assessment to the County Board of Taxation. Instead, the Complaint seeking relief pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:51A-7 was filed in the Tax Court on December 11, 1991." In its complaint, plaintiff contended that if the property had been properly assessed as farmland, the real estate taxes would have been reduced by more than $2,000.

Presently, N.J.S.A. 54:51A-7 provides:

The tax court may, upon the filing of a complaint at any time during the tax year or within the next 3 tax years thereafter . . . enter judgment to correct typographical errors, errors in transposing, and mistakes in tax assessments, provided that such complaint shall set forth the fact causing and constituting the error . . . . * * * The tax court shall not consider under this section any complaint relating to matters of valuation involving an assessor's opinion or judgment.

There is no legislative statement which accompanied the statute. The Tax Court in Manczak v. Dover Township, 2 N.J. Tax. 529 (Tax 1981), reviewed the history of the Correction of Errors Statute (Statute). Originally, the Statute allowed correction of errors by consent of the mayor or the tax assessor of the municipality affected; however, this subjective standard encouraged abuses. Thus, in 1946 the Legislature amended the Statute, then N.J.S.A. 54:2-41, requiring an applicant to set forth the facts causing and constituting the error. Notwithstanding that amendment, the Statute still required consent of the majority of the governing body of the municipality affected.

In 1979, the Statute was again amended, specifically deleting the consent provisions. See L. 1979, c. 44, § 1. The 1979 language of the Statute was very similar to today's version of N.J.S.A. 54:51A-1. The Statute was amended a final time in 1983, adding some procedural requirements which are not relevant to this appeal.

In H.G.K.W. Corp. v. East Brunswick Township, 8 N.J. Tax. 454, 457 (Tax 1986), aff'd , 9 N.J. Tax. 91 (App.Div.1987), it was observed that the ultimate effect of the language of the Statute "is to permit a taxpayer to bypass the traditional and ordinary procedure for tax appeals" only if the error falls into one of the three enumerated categories and the mistake does not relate to matters of valuation involving the tax assessor's judgment or opinion. In the present case, plaintiff asserts that the only issue on this appeal is whether the error falls under the "mistakes in tax assessments" provision of the Statute. It ...


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