Kennedy Bros., Inc. v. Property Tax Appeal Bd.

Decision Date09 July 1987
Docket NumberNo. 2-86-1115,2-86-1115
Citation510 N.E.2d 1275,158 Ill.App.3d 154,110 Ill.Dec. 244
Parties, 110 Ill.Dec. 244 KENNEDY BROTHERS, INC., an Illinois Corporation, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. PROPERTY TAX APPEAL BOARD of the State of Illinois, and Board of Review of Lake County, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

Cohen Wulftat Semer Leff Rosenberg, Thomas W. Winkler, Chicago, for plaintiff-appellant.

Fred L. Foreman, State Atty., Helen S. Rozenberg, Asst. State Atty., Waukegan, for defendants-appellees.

Justice REINHARD delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff, Kennedy Brothers, Inc., appeals from the judgment of the circuit court of Lake County, on administrative review, affirming the decision of the Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB) that section 20g-4 of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill.Rev.Stat.1983, ch. 120, par. 501g-4) did not apply to plaintiff's 1983 property assessment.

Plaintiff raises two issues on appeal: (1) whether section 20g-4 is applicable in determining the 1983 real estate assessment of plaintiff's property, and (2) whether the PTAB acted properly in denying plaintiff tax relief even if section 20g-4 is not applicable.

Plaintiff filed a petition before the Lake County Board of Review (Board) alleging that 48 lots which it owned in Vernon Township were overassessed for the year 1983. Plaintiff argued that the subject property met the requirements of section 20g-4 of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Act), which became effective September 26, 1983, and that the section applied to 1983 assessed valuations thereby entitling plaintiff to a lower assessed valuation on the property. The Board, in a decision mailed March 8, 1984, determined that there should be no change in the assessed value of plaintiff's property as section 20g-4 should not be implemented until the tax year 1984. The Board stated that to implement the section in 1983 would create inequity in assessments between townships resulting in unfair taxation.

On April 11, 1984, plaintiff filed a petition before the PTAB again arguing that section 20g-4 applied to the 1983 assessed valuations. Plaintiff stated that the fair market value of the property was $6,600 per acre, the current fair market value of "open space" land in Lake County which closely approximated "the estimated price such land currently would bring at a fair voluntary sale for use by the buyer for the same purposes for which such land was used when last assessed prior to its platting" as provided by section 20g-4(b) of the Act (Ill.Rev.Stat.1983, ch. 120, par. 501g-4(b)). Plaintiff requested that the total assessed valuation be reduced from $842,710 to $54,667.

The Board filed a letter with the PTAB on July 10, 1984, explaining how its opinion was derived. The Board stated that the bill creating section 20g-4 was not signed until September 1983 and that the:

"Board had already concluded about 50% of our work by that time so many of the townships in the County had already been closed and taxpayers in these areas who qualified under this bill did not have the opportunity to request relief. Therefore, this Board concluded that to implement this bill as of Sept., 1983 would create inequity of assessments county wide and result in unfair taxation."

Plaintiff filed a supplemental memorandum with the PTAB on November 9, 1984. Plaintiff again argued the applicability of section 20g-4 and that the fair market value of the property was $6,600 per acre, but also stated that the maximum fair market value was $25,000 per acre. Plaintiff attached an appraisal of the property which determined that $25,000 per acre was the fair market value of the property as of January 1, 1983, assuming the applicability of section 20g-4 and based in part on six recent sales of raw and undeveloped land in Vernon Township. Plaintiff requested that the 1983 assessed valuation be established at $54,667, as previously requested, but that the assessed valuation in no event be established at greater than $209,176, a figure based on the appraiser's determination of the property's fair market value.

The PTAB affirmed the Board's decision on November 4, 1985, stating that, although plaintiff and the Board stipulated that the subject property conforms to the requirements of the statute, section 20g-4 was intended to first apply to the 1984 assessment year. Specifically, the PTAB's decision stated that: (1) the date of valuation of the 1983 assessment is January 1, 1983; (2) section 20g-4 was signed into law on September 26, 1983; (3) a statute operates prospectively absent a clear expression of retroactivity; and (4) no clear expression of retroactivity was made in the section of the Act at issue here.

Plaintiff then filed a three-count complaint for administrative review, requesting that its 1983 assessments be revised pursuant to section 20g-4 and arguing for the first time that, even if section 20g-4 does not apply, the assessment of the property was against the manifest weight of the evidence because of the appraisal submitted to the PTAB and because the county imposed an improvements assessment on two of the 48 lots which were vacant and should have a "zero" improvements assessment. Following a hearing, the circuit court affirmed the PTAB's decision and this appeal followed.

Plaintiff's first contention is that the PTAB's determination that section 20g-4 of the Act did not apply until the 1984 assessment year is based on an erroneous construction of the statute and should have been reversed by the trial court. Section 20g-4 provides, in pertinent part:

"(a) In all counties containing less than 2,000,000 inhabitants, the platting and subdivision of land into separate lots and the development of such subdivided land with streets, sidewalks, curbs, gutters, sewer, water and utility lines shall not increase the assessed valuation of all or any part of the land so platted and subdivided provided that:

(1) Such land is platted and subdivided in accordance with "An Act to revise the law in relation to plats", approved March 31, 1874, as heretofore or hereafter amended;

(2) Such platting occurs after January 1, 1978; and

(3) At the time of such platting such land is vacant land in excess of 10 acres, or land used for farming or agricultural purposes within the meaning of Section 20a-1.

(b) Except as provided in subsection (c) of this Section, the assessed valuation of land so platted and subdivided shall be determined each year based on the estimated price such land currently would bring at a fair voluntary sale for use by the buyer for the same purposes for which such land was used when last assessed prior to its platting.

* * *

* * *

(d) This Section shall apply to assessments made in all counties containing less than 2,000,000 inhabitants on or after the effective date of this amendatory Act of 1983, and shall be implemented for purposes of revision by the applicable provisions of Sections 95 and 96 of this Act, as the case may require." (Footnotes omitted.) (Ill.Rev.Stat.1983, ch. 120, par. 501g-4.)

The section was effective September 26, 1983.

The statute clearly provides, therefore, that it applies to assessments "made" after September 26, 1983. The Board determined that 1983 assessments were "made" prior to that date as "the Board had already concluded about 50% of our work by that time." The PTAB affirmed this decision, finding that the legislature intended section 20g-4 to first apply to 1984 assessments.

A determination by an administrative agency is not to be disturbed upon review unless manifestly against the weight of the evidence (Citizens Utilities Co. v. Department of Revenue (1986), 111 Ill.2d 32, 47, 94 Ill.Dec. 737, 488 N.E.2d 984; DuPage Bank & Trust Co. v. Property Tax Appeal Board (1986), 151 Ill.App.3d 624, 627, 104 Ill.Dec. 590, 502 N.E.2d 1250.) Courts must give substantial weight and deference to the interpretation placed on a statute by the agency charged with its administration and enforcement. (Airey v. Department of Revenue (1987), 116 Ill.2d 528, 535, 108 Ill.Dec. 481, 508 N.E.2d 1058; Illinois Power Co. v. Illinois Commerce Com. (1986), 111 Ill.2d 505, 510-11, 96 Ill.Dec. 50, 490 N.E.2d 1255.) Those interpretations, while not binding on courts, are considered an informed source in ascertaining the legislative intent because of the agency's experience and expertise. 111 Ill.2d 505, 511, 96 Ill.Dec. 50, 490 N.E.2d 1255; Illinois Consolidated Telephone Co. v. Illinois Commerce Com. (1983), 95 Ill.2d 142, 152-53, 69 Ill.Dec. 78, 447 N.E.2d 295.

Plaintiff argues that revenue acts must be construed strictly against the State and in favor of the taxpayer and that revenue acts which tend to protect the taxpayer must be liberally construed in favor of the taxpayer. Plaintiff's statement of both of these "rules," however, is too broad and, upon examination of these rules of law, neither applies here. It is correct that:

"[t]axing laws are to be strictly construed and they are not to be extended beyond the clear import of the language used. If there is any doubt in their application they will be construed most strongly against the government and in favor of the taxpayer." (Getto v. City of Chicago (1979), 77 Ill.2d 346, 359, 33 Ill.Dec. 155, 396 N.E.2d 544; Peoples Gas Light & Coke Co. v. Ames (1934), 359 Ill. 152, 155, 194 N.E. 260.)

This rule obviously applied only when there is doubt as to whether a statute or ordinance imposing or increasing a tax applies to certain taxpayers. (See, e.g., Getto v. City of Chicago (1979), 77 Ill.2d 346, 359, 33 Ill.Dec. 155, 396 N.E.2d 544.) This is clearly not the issue here.

It is also correct that:

"[i]n determining the meaning of a grant of power to levy taxes, strict construction will be given to that which is relied upon to confer the power, but construction will be liberal in all that tends to protect the taxpayer." (People ex rel. Dooley v. New York, Chicago & St. Louis R.R. Co. (1939), 371 Ill. 522, 524, 21...

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