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Hainesport Township v. Burlington County Board of Taxation

25 N.J. Tax 138 (2009)

TAXATION; QUORUM —Where a five member tax board has only two sitting members, a quorum is only comprised of the sitting members and not by counting the total number of authorized members.

Two municipalities challenged the orders of a county board of taxation requiring them to implement revaluations for the 2010 tax year. The municipalities argued that the county tax board’s orders were invalid because the board had acted without a quorum. In particular, the municipalities argued that since the board decision was made by only two out the five authorized board members, and both were members of the same political party, the tax board’s decision was invalid and void. The municipalities relied on N.J.S.A. 54:3-25 which provides that a majority of the members shall constitute a quorum. The tax board had five members, but two had retired and one had resigned. The municipalities claimed that in order to constitute a quorum, one needed a quorum of the total authorized members, as opposed to a quorum of the sitting members. Since the tax board was authorized to have five members, a quorum would comprise three members. In this case, there were only two members. The tax board disagreed, arguing that, according to common law, a quorum is only comprised of the sitting members, and not the authorized members. In this case, the tax board argued that since the tax board had two members and both acted on this decision, there was a quorum and the order was valid. The municipalities also argued that the order was invalid because both tax board members were members of the same political party. This argument relied on N.J.S.A. 54:3-2, which provides that a tax board is to be comprised of five members, and at no time shall more than three members belong to the same political party.

The Tax Court disagreed with the municipalities. With respect to the issue of the quorum, the Tax Court found that the statutory language does not indicate an intent by the legislature to depart from the common law rule that a quorum consists of a majority of current members of the tax board, without counting vacancies. It found that since both of the remaining tax board members ordered the revaluation, the order was valid. The Tax Court also rejected the municipalities’ argument that the tax board order was invalid because both sitting members were affiliated with the same political party. It noted that the statute provides that no more than three members of the board may be affiliated with the same political party. In this case, only two members were affiliated with the same party. The Tax Court accepted the municipalities’ argument that there was a potential for abuse and that the composition of the tax board could be manipulated by the party in power if the governor failed to appoint new members and the legislature failed to approve new members of the other political party. However, the Court found that the municipalities did not allege any abuse in failing to appoint new members and it rejected the municipalities’ argument that the partisan composition of the tax board was an essential element to be considered when construing the quorum statute. According to the Tax Court, under the municipalities’ theory, unless tax board vacancies were immediately filled, the tax board would not be able to hear tax appeals for 2009 and therefore many homeowners and small business owners would be deprived of the right to appeal their tax assessments for 2009. Thus, it agreed with the tax board’s argument that it is unlikely that the state legislature intended to have the entire system of local property taxation paralyzed while vacant positions on the tax board are filled.


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