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People Ex Rel. v. C.





APPEAL from the County Court of Bureau County; the Hon. HOBART W. GUNNING, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied May 22, 1956.

Appellant, the county collector of Bureau County, appeals from an order of the county court sustaining certain of the objections filed by Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company, the appellee, to taxes levied against its property in said county for the year 1952.

The first objection of appellee was that the levy for the county general fund was excessive by $92,747.36 and it sought a refund of the amount of tax it was caused to pay by the resulting excessive rate. Pertinent facts, all of which were stipulated, show that the board of supervisors, on September 9, 1952, adopted their annual budget and appropriation resolution for the fiscal year commencing December 1, 1952. The budget fixed the estimated receipts for the year at $364,339.69, which figure contained an estimated revenue of $132,250 exclusive of taxes, and an estimate of $112,089.69 as being the cash balance on hand on December 1, 1952. The record discloses that the sum of $247,330 was appropriated for general county purposes. On the same day, the board adopted its annual tax levy resolution by which it levied a tax for general county purposes in the total sum of $151,275.

Subsequently, on November 25, 1952, the board amended the budget and appropriation, first, by lowering the estimated cash balance on hand to $54,183.03; second, by lowering the estimate of total receipts to $306,443.03; and, third, by increasing the amount of appropriations to $249,196.40. The levy resolution was not altered and thereafter taxes were extended at a rate which would produce $118,103.81. When the latter amount is totaled with the amount of nontax revenue estimated to be received it produces a sum approximating the amount appropriated for the year.

It appears from the stipulated facts, however, that the actual cash balance on hand in the general county fund on December 1, 1952, was $147,263.55. Appellee admits that the 1952 levy did not have the effect of materially increasing the cash balance which had been accumulated by the county but contends that the board knew, or should have known, what the true cash balance would be and reduced their levy proportionately instead of seeking to preserve the accumulation. At the same time appellee recognizes the propriety of permitting the county to maintain sufficient funds to operate on a cash basis at all times, but contends that the cash balance preserved by the 1952 levy is far in excess of the amount reasonably necessary for such a purpose. Accordingly, by its objection, appellee alleged in effect that all except approximately $50,000 of the cash on hand should have been deducted in determining the tax needs of the county and that the action of the board in failing to do so was unreasonable and an abuse of discretion. The county court, however, held in effect that a cash balance of $101,000 was not unreasonable and sustained the objection only insofar as it related to the remainder of the $147,263.55 cash balance. Appellee does not contest this result but it is appellant's contention that the court erred in sustaining the objection even to the extent it did.

This court has frequently observed that taxes are levied because they are necessary to defray the expenses of government and not for the purpose of enriching the public treasury. To such end it is held that taxing bodies may not levy taxes faster than they are likely to be needed and that an unnecessary accumulation of money in the public treasury is unjust, impolitic and against the policy of the law. (People ex rel. Stevenson v. Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Co. 261 Ill. 33; People ex rel. Harding v. Chicago and Northwestern Railway Co. 331 Ill. 544; People ex rel. Manifold v. Wabash Railway Co. 386 Ill. 149.) At the same time it has been recognized that a reasonable construction of our revenue laws does not require the authorities to wait until money is actually needed to defray outstanding obligations before levying a tax, but permits them to maintain sufficient monies in their treasury to pay indebtedness as it becomes due. (People ex rel. Brenza v. Gebbie, 5 Ill.2d 565; People ex rel. DeRosa v. Chicago and North Western Railway Co. 391 Ill. 347; People ex rel. Salm v. Crear, 300 Ill. 611.) Thus taxing authorities must anticipate as nearly as they can the amount of money necessary for operating their political subdivision and arrange to have funds ready to meet obligations when due. We have consistently held that the amount necessary for such purpose is ordinarily committed to their reasonable discretion and that courts will not interfere with the exercise of sound business judgment except for a clear abuse of discretion. (People ex rel. Brenza v. Chromium Corp. 3 Ill.2d 271; People ex rel. Schlaeger v. Siebel, 388 Ill. 98.) The presumption is that the authorities, in levying taxes, properly discharged their duties, and the burden is on the objector to clearly show that they did not. People ex rel. Stevenson v. Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Co. 261 Ill. 33; People ex rel. Batman v. Illinois Central Railroad Co. 366 Ill. 408; People ex rel. Manifold v. Wabash Railway Co. 386 Ill. 149.

In the present case appellee has made no clear showing of an abuse of discretion. Insofar as the record shows it relies solely upon the implications which arise from the fact that the county levied a tax of $151,275 while it had approximately $147,000 in its treasury. There is, however, no showing by clear and explicit evidence either that all of such balance could be used for expenses of the county, (cf. People ex rel. Stevenson v. Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Co. 261 Ill. 33,) or that such amount was more than would be necessary to permit the county to operate on a cash basis while the 1952 taxes were in the process of collection. (Cf. People ex rel. Bergan v. New York Central Railroad Co. 392 Ill. 525.) Appellee states that the county court decided as a question of fact that a cash balance of $101,000 was not unreasonable, yet the record does not disclose what those facts were. Manifestly, therefore, there is no clear showing that the county board committed an abuse of discretion in making the levy it did and we must hold, on the record presented, that the county court erred in substituting its discretion for that of the taxing body.

Appellee also objected to certain items contained in the levy for general county purposes the first of which were: $1000 for the acquisition of motor vehicles, $1500 for the maintenance and operation of such vehicles, and $500 for repairs and parts. The county court overruled the objection to the levy for acquisition but sustained the objection to the items for maintenance, operation, repair and parts. The objection states that each of the items were levied for the sheriff's office and were, therefore, in violation of section 10 of article X of the constitution which provides: "The county board, except as provided in Section 9 of this article, shall fix the compensation of all county officers, with the amount of their necessary clerk hire, stationery, fuel and other expenses * * * and in all cases where fees are provided for, said compensation shall be paid only out of, and shall in no instance exceed, the fees actually collected." It is argued that under this section the items for the maintenance, operation, repair and parts of the sheriff's vehicles are expenses of the office payable only out of fees collected and hence that the county could not appropriate money or levy taxes for the payment of the same. Appellant, who states in argument that the levies relate to three county vehicles only one of which is assigned to the sheriff, asserts that they are not chargeable to the sheriff as part of his compensation and that there is statutory authority for the levy of each item.

By the first proviso of section 24 of the Counties Act, (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1951, chap. 34, par. 24,) counties are invested with the express authority "To purchase and hold the real and personal estate necessary for the uses of the county." By the third proviso of the same section they are empowered "To make all contracts and do all other acts in relation to the property and concerns of the county necessary to the exercise of its corporate powers." Having thus provided for the acquisition of property, the legislature, by section 25.01 of the Counties Act, has ordained that the county board shall have the power "To take and have the care and custody of all the real and personal estate owned by the county." When these express authorizations are considered, we are of the opinion that little doubt can arise but that a county may, at its own expense, acquire vehicles for use by its sheriff if the county board, in the exercise of its discretion, reasonably believes they are necessary for the proper discharge of the corporate duties delegated to the sheriff's office. The same would be true of the purchase of radio, radar and other scientific devices which become necessary for the efficient and proper discharge of the sheriff's duties. Having been charged with the care and custody of property so purchased it would follow in sequence that the county board is also charged with the duty of keeping such equipment in repair so that it could be used for the county purposes for which it was purchased. While the custody of the vehicle in the instant case is given to the sheriff, his authority to use and retain it is subject to the control of the county board whom the statute charges with its care. When the express powers and duties prescribed by statute are considered, we are of the opinion that it cannot be seriously contended that the cost of repairing and replacing parts of a county-owned vehicle is not a proper corporate expense for which the county may levy and collect taxes.

Insofar as the item levied for the expense of maintaining and operating the sheriff's vehicle is concerned, the case of People ex rel. Goodman v. Wabash Railroad Co. 395 Ill. 520, is decisive on the objection now made. There the objection was to an item for "sheriff, car expense for patrolling roads." We held (p. 533) that since a sheriff is, by statute (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1951, chap. 53, par. 37,) entitled to fees for patrolling public highways and conveying prisoners, such fees may be paid out of the public treasury without violating section 10 of article X of the constitution. The rationale of the decision was that even though such fees are earnings of the office, and accountable as such, they are nevertheless fees which the county is liable to pay and it is stated that it makes no difference whether the money is paid as fees for services rendered or as expenses of the sheriff's office. In the absence of any showing in the present case that the levy for the expense of operating and maintaining the sheriff's vehicle was for purposes other than those for which the county is obligated by statute to pay, we conclude that it was properly levied for lawful purposes.

The next item of the county levy objected to by appellee and sustained by the county court was the levy of $1000 for the payment of premiums on the surety bonds of county officials. Without citation of specific authority appellee again reasons that such item is an expense of the office contemplated by the constitutional provision rather than a corporate expense of the county. We find, however, that the question is conclusively answered by the statute relating to the cost of official bonds, (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1951, chap. 103, par. 16,) which expressly directs that the cost of any official bond furnished by county officers in compliance with any law, rule or regulation, shall be paid out of the funds of the county. Inasmuch therefore as the levy was for the purpose of creating a fund to pay a liability imposed upon the county by statute, it was proper and the objection should have been overruled.

The concluding item of the county levy to which appellee objected was that of $2500 for the purchase of right of way for State aid roads, an item which this court found to be a proper county purpose in McKean v. County of Carroll, 324 Ill. 243. It is conceded that authority for the levy is conferred upon the county by sections 25.05, 25.10 and 56 of the Counties Act. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1951, chap. 34, pars. 25.05, 25.10 and 57.) The first section referred to authorizes the county to levy and collect taxes annually for county purposes, the second confers power "To widen or otherwise improve any county or state highway within the county, in the discretion of the county board, including state roads taken over and maintained by the State, * * *" while the third provides that the county board "shall have power to appropriate funds to aid in the construction of roads and bridges in any part of the county, whenever a majority of the whole board of the county may deem it proper and expedient, * * *." From the stipulated facts, however, it appears that the board also levied the county highway tax authorized by the State Highways Act, (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1951, chap. 121, par. 304,) and it is the ...

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