On appeal from Local Finance Board, Department of Community Affairs.
Approved for Publication December 19, 1995; As Corrected May 31, 1996.
Before Judges Petrella, Skillman *fn1 and P.g. Levy. The opinion of the court was delivered by Petrella, P.j.a.d.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Petrella
The opinion of the court was delivered by
The Township of Monroe appeals from the decision of the Local Finance Board, Division of Local Finance in the Department of Community Affairs (Board), upholding an August 23, 1994 joint letter order of the Director of the Division of Local Government Services and the Assistant Director of the Division of Taxation. The order directed Monroe Township "to take no action to is sue checks or other credits to property owners affected by" Monroe Township's July 6, 1994 tax abatement resolution. That resolution provided certain homeowners in Monroe Township with a partial abatement on their 1994 real estate taxes. *fn2 The resolution purportedly was adopted by Monroe Township pursuant to the authority in N.J.S.A. 54:4-99 and 100.
The owners of certain types of condominium units in a planned retirement community located in Monroe Township had objected to their 1994 property tax assessments as discriminatory. They informed Monroe Township that prior to April 1, 1994, their representatives had discussed their concerns with Monroe Township's tax assessor, who assertedly had assured them that their property tax assessments for 1994 would be reduced. Apparently relying on that assurance, the property owners did not file tax appeals for 1994. Monroe Township's tax assessor denied that she had made such an assurance.
Monroe Township responded to the taxpayers' pleas by adopting a July 6, 1994 resolution approving a property tax abatement program *fn3 for those taxpayers under N.J.S.A. 54:4-99 and 100. The resolution recited in part:
WHEREAS, the Assessor, although denying she agreed to reduce the assessments of the Lexington and Laurel units for the tax year 1994, recognizes that if she had reconsidered the full and fair value of the Lexington and Laurel units prior to the April 1st filing deadline she would have reduced the 1994 assessments as reflected on exhibit A attached hereto and made a part hereof.
In the joint letter order from the Division of Local Government Services and the Division of Taxation, the State took the position that N.J.S.A. 54:4-99 and 100 only applied in instances where there were illegal assessments or where "past due taxes" were due and owing and that neither situation existed here. Accordingly, the abatements were ordered to be withheld.
Monroe Township then appealed the joint order to the Board. In reaching its decision to uphold the order, the Board relied on its statutory authority to supervise and regulate the financial activities of local governments. It concluded that the Director's order was proper because Monroe Township had circumvented the statutory procedures for challenging property tax assessments by unlawfully using the cited statutory sections.
Monroe Township argues that the Board lacked jurisdiction over local government tax abatement matters. It also argues that it had authority under N.J.S.A. 54:4-99 and 100 to adopt the tax abatement resolution because the assessor's failure to reduce the 1994 assessments rendered them "illegal," and therefore, it was refunding "past due," "illegal" taxes.
When an agency interprets a statute, the appellate court is in no way bound by the agency's interpretation. Greenwood v. State Police Training Ctr., 127 N.J. 500, 513, 606 A.2d 336 (1992). Monroe Township, through its own action, attempted to cure what it considered an improper act of the tax assessor, and in so doing, Monroe Township effectively circumvented the tax appeal process and overstepped its statutory authority. Hence, the Board acted within its statutory authority and responsibility to supervise and regulate the financial affairs of ...