Oakridge Dev. Co. v. Prop. Tax Appeal Bd.

Decision Date15 November 2010
Docket NumberNo. 2-09-0737.,2-09-0737.
Citation345 Ill.Dec. 94,938 N.E.2d 533,405 Ill.App.3d 1011
PartiesOAKRIDGE DEVELOPMENT COMPANY, Algonquin Randall, LLC, and Miller Family Partnership, Petitioners, v. The PROPERTY TAX APPEAL BOARD, The McHenry County Board of Review, and Community Unit School District No. 300, Respondents.
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

Sandra S. Kerrick, William I. Caldwell, Jr., Caldwell, Berner & Caldwell, Woodstock, for Algonquin Randall, LLC, Miller Family Partnership, Oakridge Development Company.

Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, Michael A. Scodro, Solicitor General, Evan Siegel, Assistant Attorney General, Chicago, for Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board.

Louis A. Bianchi, McHenry County State's Attorney, Donald B. Leist, Assistant State's Attorney, Woodstock, for McHenry County Board of Review.

Scott E. Nemanich, Stephen R. Swofford, Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, Chicago, for Community Unit School District No. 300.

Justice O'MALLEY delivered the opinion of the court:

[345 Ill.Dec. 95, 405 Ill.App.3d 1012]

Petitioners, Oakridge Development Co. (Oakridge); Algonquin Randall, LLC; and Miller Family Partnership (the Miller Family), appeal for review of the decision of respondent, the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board (Board), upholding the rejection by respondent, the McHenry County Board of Review, of petitioners' property tax appeal. (Their appeal also names a third respondent, Community Unit School District No. 300.) On appeal, petitioners argue that the Board erred in concluding that the subject property was not eligible for farmland classification for property tax purposes. For the reasons that follow, we confirm the decision of the Board.

The parties do not dispute the relevant facts. The Miller Family owned the subject property at all pertinent times prior to 2006, and for the eight years preceding 2006 it used the property for farming in each year. According to an affidavit filed by Oakridge's president, "[i]n early 2006 the [Miller Family] and their tenant readied the land for cultivation by using a herbicide," but, when the time to plant crops came, "the family concluded that Oak Ridge would close a sale, so they

[345 Ill.Dec. 96, 938 N.E.2d 535]

abandoned their plans to plant crops." According to an affidavit of the Miller Family's managing partner, the land was used as farmland in 2004 and 2005 and was "spray[ed] * * * for weeds in anticipation of planting a 2006 crop" in April 2006. However, according to the same affidavit, in anticipation of the sale to Oakridge theMiller Family declined to plant a crop that year. The sale to Oakridge closed in December 2006. Although the property had been assessed as farmland for the 2004 and 2005 tax years, it was assessed as urban land for tax year 2006. The change in classification caused the assessed value of the subject property to rise from approximately $11,000 to over $3 million. Petitioners appealed the change in assessment to the McHenry County Board of Review. They argued to the board of review that the subject property qualified for farmland assessment in tax year 2006 because it had been used as a farm the previous two years and because that use had not discontinued as of January 1, 2006. The board of review, however, rejected petitioners' claim. The Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board likewise rejected petitioners' claim, on the basis that the relevant statutes required that, in order to be assessed as farmland for a particular tax year, property must have been used as a farm during that year. Petitioners now appeal directly to this court.1

Section 16-195 of the Property Tax Code (Code) (35 ILCS 200/16-195 (West 2008)) provides that "[f]inal administrative decisions of the [Board] are subject to review under the provisions of the Administrative Review Law [(735 ILCS 5/3-101 et seq. (West 2008))], except that in every case where a change in assessed valuation of $300,000 or more was sought, that review shall be afforded directly in the Appellate Court * * * and not in the circuit court." The parties do not dispute that petitioners seek a change in valuation greater than $300,000, and, therefore, direct appeal to this court is proper.

In an administrative review action, we will reverse administrative findings of fact only if they are against the manifest weight of the evidence, but we will consider de novo any legal issues. Cook County Board of Review v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 395 Ill.App.3d 776, 784, 335 Ill.Dec. 361, 918 N.E.2d 1174 (2009). Out of deference to an agency's expertise in applying the laws it administers, a reviewing court will not disturb the agency's determination of mixed questions of law and fact—those issues in which the facts and law are settled and all that remains is their application—unless the determination is clearly erroneous. AFM Messenger Service, Inc. v. Department of Employment Security, 198 Ill.2d 380, 391, 261 Ill.Dec. 302, 763 N.E.2d 272 (2001); City of Belvidere v. Illinois State Labor Relations Board, 181 Ill.2d 191, 205, 229 Ill.Dec. 522, 692 N.E.2d 295 (1998). The sole question presented in this appeal is whether the property tax statutes governing farmland assessment require land to be used as a farm in the relevant tax year, or whether use for the prior two years suffices. This

[345 Ill.Dec. 97, 938 N.E.2d 536]

matter of statutory interpretation is an issue of law, and we will review it de novo. Davis Bancorp, Inc. v. Board of Review of Department of Employment Security, 393 Ill.App.3d 135, 142, 331 Ill.Dec. 895, 911 N.E.2d 1125 (2009).

For a court charged with interpreting a statute, the primary goal is to ascertain and give effect to the legislative intent underlying the statute, and the best indicator of that intent is the statute's language, given its plain, ordinary, and popularly understood meaning. DeRose v. City of Highland Park, 386 Ill.App.3d 658, 660, 325 Ill.Dec. 836, 898 N.E.2d 1115 (2008). Indeed, where statutory language is unambiguous, a court must give the language effect without resort to other, extrinsic aids of construction. DeRose, 386 Ill.App.3d at 660, 325 Ill.Dec. 836, 898 N.E.2d 1115. However, as we examine the statutory language, we must "give effect to the entire statutory scheme rather than looking at words and phrases in isolation from other relevant portions of the statute." Primeco Personal Communications, L.P. v. Illinois Commerce Comm'n, 196 Ill.2d 70, 87-88, 255 Ill.Dec. 621, 750 N.E.2d 202 (2001). "In other words, statutes should be construed as a whole, with each provision evaluated in connection with every other section." Primeco Personal Communications, 196 Ill.2d at 88, 255 Ill.Dec. 621, 750 N.E.2d 202. We therefore begin our analysis by examining the language from the several sections of the code that comprise the legislature's property tax assessment scheme for farmland.

Section 9-155 of the Code describes generally how property should be assigned a value and how property tax should be assessed based on that value:

"On or before June 1 in each general assessment year in all counties with less than 3,000,000 inhabitants, and as soon as he or she reasonably can in [more populous counties and specially subdivided counties,] the assessor * * * shall actually view and determine as near as practicable the value of each property listed for taxation as of January 1 of that year * * * and assess the property at 33 1/3% of its fair cash value, or in accordance with Sections 10-110 through 10-140 [or other specialized sections not applicable here]." 35 ILCS 200/9-155 (West 2008).

In any year, including non-general-assessment years, the proper authorities may "revise and correct an assessment as appears to be just," so long as they give the owner notice of the revision, as described in sections 12-10 and 12-30 (35 ILCS 200/12-10, 12-30 (West2008)). 35 ILCS 200/ 9-75 (West 2008). Those notices—a public notice that must be issued by December 31 (35 ILCS 200/12-10 (West 2008)) and a notice mailed to the taxpayer (35 ILCS 200/12-30 (West 2008))—must, among other things, inform the taxpayer of the revision and of the right to appeal the revision. Before taxes are levied on the assessed value derived under section 9-155, the assessed value may be equalized under section 9-205 of the Code (35 ILCS 200/9-205 (West 2008)) to ensure parity among or within townships or to conform assessments to legal qualifications.

Sections 10-110 through 10-140 set out a different valuation and assessment process for farmland. Section 10-115 sets out a several-step process by which authorities use a five-year average of the net return on farmland (its income minus its costs) to calculate its "proposed agricultural economic value," which in turn must be converted to "the equalized assessed value" per acre of farmland based on soil productivity classifications in each county. See 35 ILCS 200/10-115 (West 2008). Farmland used for crops is then assessed based

[345 Ill.Dec. 98, 938 N.E.2d 537]

on that "equalized assessed value." 35 ILCS 200/10-125(a) (West 2008).

Eligibility for the farmland valuation and assessment procedure is governed by section 10-110, which provides that "[t]he equalized assessed value of a farm, as defined in Section 1-60 and if used as a farm for the 2 preceding years, * * * shall be determined as described in Sections 10-115 through 10-140." 35 ILCS 200/10-110 (West 2008). (Section 1-60 sets forth the definition of a farm as "any property used solely" for various farm activities. 35 ILCS 200/1-60 (West 2008).) The parties to this appeal disagree as to precisely what this language requires: petitioners argue that property need have been used as a farm only for the two prior years in order to qualify for farmland valuation and assessment, while respondents argue that the land must be used as a farm also during the assessment year.

We agree with respondents' reading of the statute. The above-quoted language confers farmland valuation...

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