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Wee Love, Inc. v. Township of Maple Shade

July 7, 2008

WEE LOVE, INC., PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT/ CROSS-APPELLANT,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF MAPLE SHADE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT/CROSS-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Tax Court of New Jersey, Docket Nos. 0154-2004 and 0155-2004.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted June 2, 2008

Before Judges Graves and Alvarez.

Defendant, Township of Maple Shade, appeals from a Tax Court judgment that plaintiff, Wee Love, Inc.'s day care facility is a school for purposes of local property tax exemption pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.6. Plaintiff cross- appeals, alleging that the Tax Court had jurisdiction to decide the question of the tax exemption for 2002 as well as for 2003. We affirm.

Plaintiff has operated as a non-profit corporation since 1977. The certificate of incorporation states the purpose of the school is "to promote and provide a program for all phases of a child's physical, social, emotional, and mental development and the delivery of other social services." It is exempt from federal taxation because of its non-profit status, and licensed by the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Youth and Family Services, as a child care center. Plaintiff's founder and director is I. Caroline Morrell, who also formed the non-profit corporation that operates the facility.

Prices charged do not result in a profit as the school is operated either on a break even or slight loss basis. Some students are fully subsidized by the government, some receive partial subsidies, and the remainder pay their own way. Salaries are quite modest, including the salary paid to Morrell.

Plaintiff's facility is open between 6:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., and is licensed to serve children up to thirteen years of age. All teachers, with the exception of those who serve the infants and toddlers, submit weekly lesson plans to Morrell.

The facility is housed in a building, formerly used as a public school, acquired in 1986. The building had been exempt from local property taxation because of its prior use. After the purchase, defendant's Tax Assessor added the property to the tax rolls, plaintiff appealed, and the matter was settled by a stipulation of dismissal entered in the Tax Court in 1988 or 1989. The agreement called for the property to be exempt from taxation in 1987, 1989, and 1990, set a schedule for payment of taxes for 1988, and required plaintiff to make a payment in lieu of taxes in the amount of $2500 for the tax year 1990.

For reasons not explained in this record, plaintiff made the "in lieu of" payments from 1990 through 1992, and ceased making any payment whatsoever to defendant after that year. It was not until 2003 that the Tax Assessor issued the notices of contested payments due.

In 2004, defendant sold a tax lien on plaintiff's property for outstanding taxes assessed in 2002 and 2003. In 2003, plaintiff sold a portion of the land on which the school is located to a developer. At closing, plaintiff paid $34,295.57 from the sale proceeds to redeem the tax sale certificate and satisfy other municipal charges. Of that amount, $26,230 went towards payment of taxes for 2002 and 2003. The balance of the payment included 2004 taxes, and "delinquent sewer and water charges and statutory year-end penalties for late payment of taxes and fees." At the closing, plaintiff was also required to pay taxes for the fourth quarter of 2004 in the amount of $6,120.57.

Plaintiff appealed the assessment to the Burlington County Board of Taxation (the Board), contending as it does here that because it was a school it was exempt from property tax. The Board ruled in defendant's favor; plaintiff then appealed to the Tax Court. The Tax Court decision now being appealed was rendered in 2007.

Although the Board issued a judgment for the tax year 2003, none was rendered for the tax year 2002. Plaintiff contends the Board and the Tax Court decisions should have included both years. The confusion arose from plaintiff's filing of an initial appeal application form with the Board which did not state that separate appeals were being pursued for 2002 and 2003.

We affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by the Tax Court judge in her thoughtful and well-written June 27, 2007 opinion. "The scope of appellate review from a determination of the Tax Court is no different from that applicable to a non-jury determination of any other trial court." G & S Co. v. Borough of Eatontown, 6 N.J. Tax 218, 220 (App. Div. 1982). "Since the judges assigned to the New Jersey Tax Court have special expertise, we will not ...


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