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O'connor v. a & P Enterprises





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Peoria County, the Hon. Stephen J. Covey, Judge, presiding.


More than 500 owners of real estate in Peoria County paid their taxes under protest and, upon application for judgment by the county collector, filed objections. The objectors rely upon Public Act 80-247, which established a new procedure for placing valuation on farmland, farm buildings and farm dwellings. The objectors also contend that the "multiplier" was wrongfully applied to the assessment of farm property. The collector contends that Public Act 80-247 is unconstitutional and that the "multiplier" was properly applied to the assessed valuation of farmland. The circuit court of Peoria County upheld the validity of the act in question but certified that more than 500 objections to the application for judgment contained a common question of law and that the resolution of the constitutionality of Public Act 80-247 would "materially advance the termination of the more than 500 tax objection cases now pending." The collector filed an application for leave to appeal from the order of the court pursuant to our Rule 308 (73 Ill.2d R. 308). The appellate court allowed the collector's application for leave to appeal. The objectors then filed a motion for leave to transfer the case to this court pursuant to Rule 302(b) (73 Ill.2d R. 302(b)), which motion was allowed.

Thus, two issues are before this court: (1) whether Public Act 80-247 is constitutional, and (2) if so, whether the equalizing factor or multiplier established by the board of review to equalize assessments between the townships shall be applied to property assessed in accordance with the provisions of Public Act 80-247.

Public Act 80-247 was enacted by the General Assembly in 1977 and established a different procedure for fixing the assessed valuation of farm property from that formerly employed, and from that now employed in determining the assessed valuation of other real property. Public Act 80-247 added sections 20e and 20f to the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 120, pars. 501e, 501f) and amended certain other sections, including section 1, wherein a definition of "farm" was incorporated in section 1(25) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 120, par. 482(25)). Section 20e provides essentially that the farm value formula for arriving at the value of the best grade of farmland within the county will be determined by the Department of Local Government Affairs, using the value per acre of agricultural products sold, the average value per acre of principal crops for the most recent three years, plus 10% of the average sale price per acre for the same 3-year period. This section further provides that farmland of lesser value than that classified as the highest or best grade within the county shall be valued for assessment purposes by local assessment officials on the basis of its productivity. The specific language used in Public Act 80-247 will be quoted below in the discussion of the various challenges to its validity and application.

In Hoffmann v. Clark (1977), 69 Ill.2d 402, this court distilled from the proceedings of the constitutional convention the breadth of the authority of the General Assembly to raise revenue through taxation under the 1970 Constitution. This court there construed that authority broadly, and declined, through judicial interpretation of constitutional provisions, to fulfill the fears of the convention Committee on Revenue and Finance by placing a narrow and unintended limitation upon the General Assembly's authority in the field of taxation. (Hoffmann v. Clark (1977), 69 Ill.2d 402, 424.) In considering the challenges to Public Act 80-247, we must accord similar deference to the legislature and not limit or curtail, through judicial construction, the revenue powers which are plainly vested in the General Assembly. The Act should be liberally construed to achieve a discernible purpose. We must also be guided by the accepted principle that legislative enactments are presumed constitutional and that reasonable doubts concerning the validity of a statute must be resolved in its favor. (North Shore Post No. 21 of the American Legion v. Korzen (1967), 38 Ill.2d 231, 233.) In Hoffmann v. Clark this court upheld the legislature's classification of farm property for special treatment for assessment purposes. The provisions of Public Act 80-247 again specially classify farm property for assessment purposes and provide another method for fixing its assessed value. The legislature's authority to classify is not challenged. The validity of the Act is challenged on several other grounds, however.

We first consider the collector's contention that, under the provisions of the enactment defining "farm" found in section 1(25) of the Revenue Act of 1939, improvements on the farm that are neither currently in use, nor contribute toward the productivity of the farm, are not to be included in the valuation. This, it is argued, constitutes an exemption from taxation. Article IX, section 6, of the Constitution of 1970 authorizes the General Assembly to exempt certain kinds of property from taxation. Since improvements on farm property do not fall within any class authorized to be exempt from taxation by the Constitution, it is argued that this statute exempting improvements to farm property from taxation is unconstitutional.

We do not agree that this provision constitutes an "implied exemption of property from taxation." It is, instead, a recognition by the legislature that certain structures located on a farm may have become obsolete by changes in farming methods or practices, and either have a greatly diminished value, or possibly no value at all in connection with the farming operation when considered as a part of the farm as a whole. The corncrib, once an essential structure on every farm for the storage of ear corn, has become primarily a relic of the past, due to the almost universal practice of combining the corn and drying and storing it as shelled corn. Horse barns now stand idle due to the disappearance of the use of horses for the powering of farm machinery, and many dairy barns are no longer used because of the decrease in the number of small dairy herds. The legislature has provided that these buildings should be valued on the basis of their contribution to the farm operation. If they are used for either their intended purpose, or for a substitute purpose, the appropriate value can be placed on them. Section 1(25) of the Revenue Act of 1939 provides that these buildings shall continue to be valued as a part of the farm. If they contribute nothing to the productivity of the farm then, of course, the buildings would add nothing to the value of the farm. Being valued as a part of the farm, the failure to place a value on these buildings is a method or procedure of valuation and not an exemption from taxation. Just as a well that is no longer usable or a shade tree that is dead does not enhance the value of the farm, a barn or a corncrib that is not usable adds nothing to the value of a farm.

The collector's principal contention is that Public Act 80-247 is so vague, indefinite and uncertain that men of ordinary intelligence must guess at its meaning and differ in their application of the Act, which, it is argued, renders the Act unconstitutional as a violation of due process. First, the collector contends that the definition of the word "farm" as used in section 1(25) of the Revenue Act of 1939, is vague and insufficient. Section 20e provides:

"Any owner of a `farm', as defined in Section 1 of this Act, * * * shall be eligible for a farm value assessment on such farm real property pursuant to this Section." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 120, par. 501e.)

Section 1(25) of the Revenue Act defines "farm" as follows:

"`Farm' when used in connection with valuing land and buildings for an agricultural use shall mean any parcel of land used solely for the growing and harvesting of crops; for the feeding, breeding and management of livestock; for dairying or for any other agricultural or horticultural use or combination thereof; including, but not limited to, hay, grain, fruit, truck or vegetable crops, floriculture, mushroom growing, plant or tree nurseries, orchards, forestry, sod farming and greenhouses; the keeping, raising and feeding of livestock or poultry, including dairying, poultry, swine, sheep, beef cattle, ponies or horses, fur farming, bees, fish and wildlife farming." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 120, par. 482(25).

We view the definition of "farm" in section 1(25) as being rather specific, much more so than the term "used for farming or agricultural purposes" contained in section 20a-1 of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 120, par. 501a-1), which was construed by this court in Hoffmann v. Clark. It is not necessary that each term used in the statute be specifically defined and that the exact application of the statute to all factual variations be delineated therein. The application of the statute is of necessity placed in the hands of the various assessment officers and administrative bodies which, in turn, have the express and implied authority to adopt rules for the guidance of persons involved in the assessment procedure and assure the uniform application of the statute. (Turner v. Wright (1957), 11 Ill.2d 161, 173; see, e.g., Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 120, pars. 494, 592.2.) The Department of Local Government Affairs was granted the authority to prescribe rules and regulations for local assessment officers relevant to the assessment of real property. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 120, par. 611(3).) Thus, the local assessment officers, in applying the Act, will not be left to conjecture as to the meaning of certain words and phrases used by the legislature, but will be guided by, and an acceptable degree of uniformity will be achieved by, the rules and regulations adopted for the guidance of assessment officers. If there are borderline cases where the Act is erroneously applied, these uncertainties can be resolved through judicial interpretation. The fact that such borderline cases exist will not, however, render the statute unconstitutional. (See Jacobs v. City of Chicago (1973), 53 Ill.2d 421, 427; Stein v. Howlett (1972), 52 Ill.2d 570, 580.) Also, the fact that there may occur a misapplication of the statute will not render it invalid. (Hoffmann v. Clark (1977), 69 Ill.2d 402, 427.) The collector's concern that because of an absence of definitions in the amendment he will be subjected to penalty for inadvertently wrongfully applying the statute is unfounded.

Related to the above argument is the collector's contention that the meaning of the language in section 20e, quoted above, that provides any owner of a "farm" shall be eligible for farm value assessment is unclear. It is argued that the amendment fails to provide a mechanism by which its benefits may be obtained. The collector points out that, in order to realize the benefits of other statutes providing for special tax treatment (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 120, pars. 500, 501a-1, 501b-1, 501d-1, 501g-1), some positive action must be taken by the property owner. Under these other statutory provisions, the exceptions to the usual procedures do not automatically apply. In section 20e of the Revenue Act of 1939, however, it is simply provided that the farm owner shall be "eligible" for a farm value assessment. It is argued that the section does not provide for an automatic application of farm-value assessment and that there is no direction to the collector as to when and under what circumstances a farm value assessment is to be applied. The collector contends that the amendment is incomplete and invalid. We think that the reading of the Revenue Act of 1939 as amended by Public Act 80-247 makes clear the legislative intent that the assessment procedure provided by the amendment is to be automatically applied to farmland, in the absence of some action taken which brings into play other sections of the Revenue Act of 1939. Since there is no provision for granting a farm-value assessment upon application, the provisions of the amendment would be meaningless ...

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