Little Egg Harbor Township v. Bonsangue

316 N.J. Super 271, 720 A.2d 369 (App. Div. 1998)
  • Opinion Date: November 9, 1998

TAX APPEALS; ASSESSMENTS—A variety of objections to the manner in which the Tax Court reached a valuation decision were analyzed and rejected on appeal.

This property owner was dissatisfied with a ruling of the Tax Court establishing the assessed value of its properties. In its appeal to the Appellate Division, it raised a number of objections, each of which was rejected. Even though the municipality’s expert witness, the tax assessor, was neither licensed nor certified pursuant to the Real Estate Appraisers Act, his testimony was admissible. The qualification and competency of a witness to provide expert testimony is a matter within the sound discretion of a trial court. The municipal tax assessor met the statutory requirements and had served as a certified tax assessor in the municipality for eight years. Also, it was not a reversible error for the Tax Court Judge to keep and use a copy of the tax assessor’s appraisal as trial notes and to refer to it during the tax assessor’s testimony even though the appraisal was not formally introduced into evidence. Apparently, the parties had agreed to exchange appraisals and had not objected to the Judge’s use of the submitted appraisals to make trial notes prior to the testimony of each expert witness. As to the property owner’s assertion that the municipality’s valuation expert’s reliance on two unconsummated contracts of sale to establish value was improper, the Appellate Division disagreed, relying on a series of cases governing such use. Use of unconsummated contracts for valuation purposes is recognized in New Jersey. Nonetheless, no such contract may be taken on its face without a thorough review of its provisions and the circumstances surrounding its execution. In addition, if the contract is replete with contingencies and is in fact nothing more than an offer or option to purchase, the contract must be disregarded. Even with this proviso, objections to the validity of executory contracts affect the weight of the evidence rather than its admissibility.

The property owner also objected to the use of certain comparable valuations because the municipal tax assessor applied significant percentage adjustments to those comparable sales. However, the property owner failed to demonstrate that any of the adjustments were unreasonable in light of relevant considerations. In evaluating the appropriateness of the adjustments, the Appellate Division deferred to the Tax Court’s expertise and limited its review to a determination of whether the Tax Court came to its decision in an arbitrary fashion and whether its findings of facts were supported by substantial credible evidence.