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Data is compiled from official government agencies inluding state, county courthouses, and public records. The case now before us relates to the challenged East Orange assessments; but the complaints in all the proceedings are in substance the same. On January 10, the local assessors in Essex County returned to the Essex County Board of Taxation their several assessment lists and duplicates in accordance with R. Hackensack Water Company v. Division of Tax Appeals , 2 N. Ivins , N. On March 10 ensuing, the county board advised the various local assessors by telephone of prospective "changes in some assessments in some parts of the county"; and on March 20 the board ordered specific corrections and revisions of the tax lists, and directed the assessors to conform.
The revised East Orange tax list concerns 62 parcels of real property and 13 owners of personal property. There were numerous revisions and corrections of assessments in the several municipalities of Essex County. At a meeting of the various local assessors and the county board held March 24 following, the "Local Assessors," it is averred in the complaint, protested the revision of the East Orange assessments. In particular, it is charged in the complaint that the assessment of the land at No. Referring to a report made to the county board by a committee for "equalization of assessments" organized in by the Association of Municipal Assessors of Essex County "at the request of and with the approval" of the board, the complaint says that an analysis of all real property sales in Essex County during the year reveals that "with the exception of industrial properties, real estate located in East Orange was assessed at a higher percentage of full and fair value than the county-wide average" — i.
And, generally, it is charged that the assessments of plaintiffs' properties, "as changed" by the county board, "are in excess of the percentage of full and fair value assessed against other properties of the same class.
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The complaint affirms that plaintiffs "have been unable to ascertain exactly what reasons, basis or method, if any, was adopted" by the county board "in singling out plaintiffs' properties for increase in assessments"; but it is charged that the action taken by the board "was not in compliance with any statute or statutory method," but rather "in direct violation thereof," and the increase of plaintiffs' assessments "was intentional and violative of the principle of practical uniformity in assessment," and "discriminatory, arbitrary and capricious.
There is a further allegation that the county board's "sole jurisdiction" to "direct an increase in assessment of specific properties in a specific taxing district exists only as a part of a complete revision, correction and equalization of assessed values of all the property in a taxing district in order to tax all property equally and at full value," and so the particular assessment increases constitute an excess of power.
As just said, the constitutional principle of equality is also invoked; and it is urged in the complaint that "where it is impossible to secure both the standard of full value and the uniformity and equality required by law, the latter requirement must be adopted as the just and ultimate purpose of the law.
Denying that there is a "prompt, effective, efficient or adequate" administrative review "except through these proceedings," the complaint declares that assuming an "available administrative review," "the interests of justice require" that the rule of prior recourse to the administrative forum be relaxed because a of the constitutional issues involved; b the county board, "the first administrative agency," would be called upon to review its own acts; c the great expense and delay and the "repetitious testimony" incident to the prosecution of 30 individual tax appeals; d "doubts" as to the jurisdiction of the administrative agencies, particularly its power "under applicable statutes to reduce the assessments on plaintiffs' properties upon the ground of discrimination," and the need for administrative expression of "opinions on questions of law which would clearly be subject to judicial review and which are ultimately questions for the Court.
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The prayer of the complaint is that the order of the county board directing the "corrections" and "revisions" of the East Orange tax list "be vacated and set aside as to properties of plaintiffs, and judgment entered accordingly. Smith as against a motion to dismiss for want of jurisdiction predicated on the failure to exhaust asserted available administrative remedies. After answer filed denying the pleaded discrimination and violation of the principle of uniformity, Judge Hughes overruled defendant's motion for summary judgment on the pleadings for lack of jurisdiction of the subject matter and for failure to invoke available administrative remedies, if there be jurisdiction, and, moreover, since the county board is a state administrative agency, Warren v.
Hudson County, N. It was found that "the administrative remedy is at best uncertain, if it is not, indeed, nonexistent in the practical sense," and the rule providing for a direct appeal is not applicable. The Appellate Division affirmed. The holding there was that the county board is not empowered by statute "to remedy an unconstitutionally discriminatory assessment, representing true value or less than true value, by reducing it to the common level of assessments generally.
The case came here by certification at the instance of defendant. After hearing argument on May 17, , this court sua sponte ordered a reargument of the appeal on September 13 ensuing, and directed that meanwhile the parties to the several causes "complete their pleadings, take such depositions and make such inspections" as they should deem proper, and then proceed to trial of the issues in the Law Division of the Superior Court, either separately or together as the trial judge should think fit, to the end of a determination and argument of ensuing appeals "upon the merits, simultaneously with the reargument" of the original appeal, and there was a remand for that purpose.
Accordingly, the causes came on for hearing before Judge Colie on August 12 and 13 following; and there was judgment vacating "as to the plaintiffs and their properties," therein particularized, the order for the assessment increases made by the county board on March 20, , and reducing the several assessments as thus certified "by the amounts of such increases," the "reductions, in each case, to be inclusive of any reductions" theretofore "granted by judgments" of the county board.
But the assessments made by the local assessors were not disturbed; the increases ordered by the county board were set aside. We concur in the finding of discriminatory taxation violative of constitutional principle. The proofs show that all lands throughout the affected municipalities were assessed by the local assessors according to a common ratio of value, making for equality and uniformity within the taxing district; and increases in selected areas confined by arbitrarily fixed geographical boundaries of necessity worked discrimination in respect of comparable properties immediately beyond the unreasoned and artificial border line.
Indeed, this resulted in varying standards and consequent discrimination as between properties of like kind and character in the immediate vicinity, on the same and the opposite side of streets bounding the area of action. It was a course of procedure at war with the basic principle of equality; and there ensued glaring disparities in the assessments that are now sought to be excused by the plea that, for lack of funds, assessment uniformity has become a piece-meal process over a period of years.
Members of the county board conceded on the witness stand that, in directing the challenged increases, the board was not engaged in the exercise of the equalization function. And the board's revisions were confined to commercial and industrial properties.
Thus, the assessment increases decreed by the county board would nullify the pattern of equality set by the local assessors through the medium of a uniform assessment ratio, and lay an undue tax burden upon the plaintiff landowners — the certain consequence of their admeasurement by arbitrary percentages and formulae.
We proceed to the jurisdictional and policy questions raised on the original appeal. There is pleaded here a common remediable grievance arising from a discriminatory tax visitation now established by the proofs, unequal in its incidence and oppressive in its burden; and in the treatment of the issues raised we are to be mindful that this is a judicial proceeding to redress a basic inequality in the apportionment of the charge, violative of constitutional principle. We are not concerned here with failures or omissions in the administrative assessment process not related to inequality of treatment.
By an amendment to the State Constitution adopted in , Article IV, Section VII, paragraph 12, it was directed that property "be assessed for taxes under general laws, and by uniform rules, according to its true value.
But the Constitution, Article VIII, Section I, paragraph 1, provides that property shall be "assessed for taxation under general laws and by uniform rules," and "All real property assessed and taxed locally or by the State for allotment and payment to taxing districts shall be assessed according to the same standard of value. Yet the dominant principle of the new constitutional mandate is equality of treatment and burden. And this was of the essence and spirit of the old Constitution as well. One of the implementing statutory provisions cited supra, R. Such is the preeminent consideration in the distribution of the tax burden.
The common assessment ratio was given recognition under the old constitutional and statutory standard of "true value. Collins, 43 N. Pownell, 49 N. Central R. And were the constitutional provision of a radically different tenor and import, the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment would prevail, for the right of equal treatment thereby secured "protects the individual from state action which selects him out for discriminatory treatment by subjecting him to taxes not imposed on others of the same class"; he may not complain "if equality is achieved by increasing the same taxes of other members of the class to the level of his own"; the constitutional requirement "is not satisfied if a State does not itself remove the discrimination, but imposes on him against whom the discrimination has been directed the burden of seeking an upward revision of the taxes of other members of the class.
Cromwell , U.
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This latter was found to be the case in New Jersey under Royal Mfg. Board of Equalization of Taxes, 76 N. Justice Douglas in the Hillsborough case, "it is plain that the state remedy is not adequate to protect respondent's rights under the federal Constitution. Earlier, Chief Justice Taft, noting a conflict of view as to what should be done where one or a few of a class of taxpayers are assessed at the full true value of their property, in accord with a constitutional or statutory requirement, and the rest of the class are intentionally assessed at a much lower percentage, in violation of the law, declared:.
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The conclusion is based on the principle that where it is impossible to secure both the standards of the true value, and the uniformity and equality required by law, the latter requirement is to be preferred as the just and ultimate purpose of the law. Dakota County , U. Vide Cumberland Coal Co. Board of Revision of Tax Assessments , U.
Bennett , U. But it goes without saying that mathematical precision in the valuation of property for taxation is not requisite, nor is it attainable. Absolute equality is impracticable.