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Note to Readers: The procedural history, pleading summaries and related material for individual cases will be maintained on this section of the site for a period of time after a written decision or opinion is issued. After deleted from the site, printouts of the material will be provided to interested parties by contacting the Council office as described under Address, E-mail & Telephone.

In re Complaint filed by the Township of West Milford COLM-0011-19.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Complaint filed.  On November 12, 2019, via FedEx, a Complaint was filed by Fred Semrau, Esq., on behalf of the Township of West Milford, in which it submits that N.J.S.A. 13:20- 1 th ru -35 (Highlands Water Protection and  Planning Act) and  N.J.A.C. 7:38-1 thru -14.2 constitutes an unfunded mandate in violation of Article VIII, Section II, Paragraph 5 of the New Jersey Constitution. Specifically, P.L. 2004,Chapter 120 (N.J.S.A. 13:20-1 through -35) (the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act) and its implementing rules set forth at N.J.A.C. 7:38- 1 through - 14.2 (collectively "Highlands Act"), as applied to the Township of West Milford,constitute an unfunded mandate in violation of Article VIII, Section II, Paragraph 5 of the New Jersey Constitution.

The Highlands Act, as applied to the Township,which essentially is one of the geographically largest communities in the State of New Jersey at over eighty (80) square miles, in effect imposes a moratorium on a development within the Township. As concluded in the Highlands Council's 2009 West Milford Buildout Report, the Township, under the Highlands Act, has zero buildout available to the municipality.

The Highlands Act creates an unfunded liability for the Township because the State Legislature failed to appropriate resources to offset the permanent loss of ratables to the Township,notwithstanding the contin obligation of the Township to maintain infrastructure and provide for the stewardship of these preserved lands.

Initially,the Highlands Act provided for property tax reimbursement for those ratable losses that were sustained pursuant to the Highlands Act. This was set forth in N.J.S.A. 54:1-85 and known as The Highlands Property Tax Stabilization Board and Fund ("Board"). The statute established a special non-lapsing fund for the purpose of providing State aid to qualified municipalities. The Board was to establish procedures for determining the valuation base for a qualified municipality to determine whether fiscal stress "has been caused by the implementation of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act." The Board was instructed to determine the amount due to a qualified municipality to compensate for the decline in the aggregate true value of vacant land directly attributed to the implementation of the Highlands Act. This legislation called for final payments to be made in 2014 and presently, there is no provision available for such reimbursement notwithstanding that the hardships and the loss of ratables continue for qualified municipalities such as the Township.

A summary of the Township of West Milford Complaint may be viewed under Pleading Summaries.

To view the full version of the Township of West Milford Complaint, please click here.

Council Publication.  Because of the identity of the issue raised, on November 13, 2019 via email and hand delivered letter, the Council ordered that the complaint should be served on the Attorney General, the Department of Law & Public Safety, the Commissioner at the Department of Environmental Protection, and the officials listed in Council Rule 9a.  The Council also determined that the Attorney General would be directed to file an Answer to the Complaint, and that any other official served with the Complaint that chose to do so might file an Answer, as Respondent.

Council grants parties request for 90 day stay.  On December 10, 2019, the parties involved in this matter requested an 90 day stay in this matter.  The Council granted the requests of the parties, by issuing an 90 day stay in the matter.

Council grants parties request for an additional 45 day stay.  On March 10, 2020, the parties involved in this matter requested an additional 45 day stay in this matter.  The Council granted the request of the parties, by issuing an additional 45 day stay in this matter.

Council issues Order to Dismiss the matter without prejudice.  On June 22, 2020, via email, the Council informed all interested parties in their Order in the Township of West Milford Matter, that the matter is hereby dismissed without prejudice to either party or their respective rights.

To view the full version of the Council's Order, please click here.

PLEADING SUMMARIES.

This portion of the site reproduces summaries, written by parties and amici, of their pleadings, as they are filed with the Council, beginning with the filed Complaints.  The summaries do not represent the views of the Council; they are provided to facilitate understanding of the positions reflected in the pleadings.

Complete copies of all filed pleadings may be obtained by contacting the Council office as described under Address & Telephone.

Claimant Township of West Milford Summary of Complaint:

The Township of West Milford ("TWM") submits that N.J.S.A. 13:20- 1 th ru -35 (Highlands Water Protection and  Planning Act) and  N.J.A.C. 7:38-1 thru -14.2 constitutes an unfunded mandate in violation of Article VIII, Section II, Paragraph 5 of the New Jersey Constitution. Specifically, P.L. 2004,Chapter 120 (N.J.S.A. 13:20-1 through -35) (the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act) and its implementing rules set forth at N.J.A.C. 7:38- 1 through - 14.2 (collectively "Highlands Act"), as applied to the Township of West Milford,constitute an unfunded mandate in violation of Article VIII, Section II, Paragraph 5 of the New Jersey Constitution.

The Highlands Act, as applied to the Township,which essentially is one of the geographically largest communities in the State of New Jersey at over eighty (80) square miles, in effect imposes a moratorium on a development within the Township. As concluded in the Highlands Council's 2009 West Milford Buildout Report, the Township, under the Highlands Act, has zero buildout available to the municipality.

The Highlands Act creates an unfunded liability for the Township because the State Legislature failed to appropriate resources to offset the permanent loss of ratables to the Township,notwithstanding the contin obligation of the Township to maintain infrastructure and provide for the stewardship of these preserved lands.

Initially,the Highlands Act provided for property tax reimbursement for those ratable losses that were sustained pursuant to the Highlands Act. This was set forth in N.J.S.A. 54:1-85 and known as The Highlands Property Tax Stabilization Board and Fund ("Board"). The statute established a special non-lapsing fund for the purpose of providing State aid to qualified municipalities. The Board was to establish procedures for determining the valuation base for a qualified municipality to determine whether fiscal stress "has been caused by the implementation of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act." The Board was instructed to determine the amount due to a qualified municipality to compensate for the decline in the aggregate true value of vacant land directly attributed to the implementation of the Highlands Act. This legislation called for final payments to be made in 2014 and presently, there is no provision available for such reimbursement notwithstanding that the hardships and the loss of ratables continue for qualified municipalities such as the Township.

The above summary is a quotation from the Complaint filed by Fred Semrau, Esq., on behalf of the Township of West Milford, on November 12, 2019.