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Essex County Board of Taxation v. Township of Caldwell

A-2588-01T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

TAXATION; REVALUATION—Just because a Tax Court’s order that a municipality revalue all of it property goes unenforced for fifteen years doesn’t mean that it cannot then be enforced, arguments of estoppel and laches notwithstanding.

A municipality last conducted its municipality wide revaluation of its real property in 1970. In 1986, the county board of taxation ordered it to revalue its real property. That order was based upon the municipality having a high “general coefficient of deviation.” A coefficient of deviation “is a statistical computation of the degree of uniformity of assessments within a taxing district,” and a lower coefficient of deviation indicates a better degree of uniformity in the taxing district. The municipality never appealed the 1986 order or took any steps to comply with it. The board of taxation did not pursue enforcement until 1993. The municipality argued that in some years between 1986 and 1993 the coefficients of deviation had fallen below the critical threshold “and as a result a revaluation was unnecessary and its costs unjustified.” The board rejected that argument. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until 1996 that the board adopted a resolution requesting the New Jersey Attorney General to enforce its 1986 order. Moreover, it wasn’t until 2001, fifteen years after the original complaint, that the Attorney General filed a complaint to enforce the order.

On appeal, the municipality argued that there were other municipalities in the same county with worse coefficients. It also argued that the board of taxation waited too long to enforce its order. Lastly, it argued that its coefficient, at the time of the appeal, was acceptable in accordance with revaluation standards.

The Tax Court, with the affirmance of the Appellate Division, rejected all of those arguments. It pointed out that time frames for filing prerogative writ actions can be enlarged when there are “important public rather than private interests which require adjudication or clarification.” Further, enlargement of time periods is permissible where there is a “continuing violation of public rights.” Here, the municipality failed to comply with the 1986 revaluation order and continued to disobey the order. Therefore, the Appellate Division found that the failure to comply “perpetuate[d] the alleged tax inequality that was found by the Board and adversely affect[ed] citizens in [the municipality] as well as other citizens in the county.” Even though uniformity is required throughout the county, it was not unfair or unconstitutional to compel this particular municipality to comply with the order despite the fact that four other municipalities in the same county had higher general coefficients of deviation. “The mere fact that a law has not been fully enforced against others does not give a defendant the right to violate it.” Lastly, on the facts, the Appellate Division found that in many years, the municipality’s coefficient was higher than the generally accepted threshold for revaluation and was generally higher than the coefficient as determined in 1986. Consequently, the situation was considered by the Board just as unacceptable in 2001 as it was in 1986.


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