On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Sussex County.
Before: Judges Long, Kleiner and Kimmelman.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kimmelman, J.A.D.
In this action in lieu of prerogative writs, the trial court considered the extent of the obligation of the Township of Vernon (the "Township" or "Vernon") to reimburse the Stonehill Property Owners Association, Inc. ("Stonehill"), pursuant to the provisions of the Municipal Services Act, N.J.S.A. 40:67-23.2 to -23.8 (the "Act"), for costs incurred by Stonehill in providing certain municipal services to and for the six component condominium communities existing and operating under the umbrella of Stonehill and known as Great Gorge Village. We are now called upon to consider the reach of the Act, the services eligible for reimbursement, and the rate thereof.
As defined by the Act, Stonehill is a qualified private community within the Township. N.J.S.A. 40:67-23.2e. In connection with its operation of the Village, Stonehill pays for the cost of providing certain essential services, such as the removal of snow and ice from the roads and streets and lighting of the roads and streets. As it has the right to do, the Township elected not to provide such services directly. Consequently, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 40:67-23.3a, the Township is obligated to reimburse Stonehill for the services it provides. The statute requires, in pertinent part, that:
[T]he governing body of every municipality shall reimburse a qualified private community for the following services . . . or provide the following services within a qualified private community in the same fashion as the municipality provides these services on public roads and streets:
(1) Removal of snow, ice and other obstructions from the roads and streets;
(2) Lighting of the roads and streets, to the extent of payment for the electricity required, but not including the installation or maintenance of lamps, standards, wiring or other equipment; and
(3) Collection of leaves and recyclable materials along the roads and streets and the collection or disposal of solid waste along the roads and streets. [N.J.S.A. 40:67-23.3a.]
At trial, there was no basic dispute as to either the costs incurred by Stonehill in furnishing the N.J.S.A. 40:67-23.3a services, or the costs incurred by Vernon in providing such services for the rest of the Township. The dispute centered around the following issues:
(1) the construction of N.J.S.A. 40:67-23.3a with respect to whether a municipality must make reimbursement of the total costs incurred by a qualified private community in providing the designated services or whether reimbursement is limited to the level it would cost the municipality to provide the services "within a qualified private community in the same fashion as [it] provides [the] services on public roads and streets."
(2) the length of the interior roadways within Great Gorge Village and whether access to and through parking lots should be added to the 3.9 miles which the Township maintained was eligible to be considered as a base in determining reimbursement, thus bringing the total to 6.38 miles, as contended by Stonehill;
(3) whether and the extent to which a difficulty factor should be added to the Township's average snow removal costs for roads within the Township with respect to its obligation to reimburse Stonehill for snow removal costs for the interior roadways of Great Gorge Village;
(4) whether the electricity costs for Great Gorge Village's total of 387 interior street lights should be reimbursed in full or be limited to cover only the costs for those lights located at intersections; and
(5) whether Stonehill was entitled to reimbursement for street sweeping costs.
After a bench trial, Judge Stanton rendered a perceptive and comprehensive oral opinion, which was reflected in an Order For ...