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People Ex Rel. Thompson v. Anderson





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Mercer County; the Hon. David DeDoncker, the Hon. Jay M. Hanson, and the Hon. Michael Brinn, Judges, presiding.


This appeal involves 1979 property tax objections filed by certain taxpayers challenging the validity of township multipliers adopted by the Mercer County Board of Review. These objections were first disposed of by an agreed order, but after the trial court allowed a motion by the State's Attorney to vacate that order, a hearing was held, and the court ruled that the multipliers were invalid. The State has appealed from that ruling.

We believe the determinative issue in this case is whether the trial court properly vacated the order which had been entered upon agreement of the parties. In order to understand that issue, however, it is necessary to set forth the events which led to the filing of tax objections in the first place.

On August 8, 1979, all individual property assessments for Mercer County were published as is statutorily required for each quadrennial assessment year. The publication notice stated that the published valuations were subject to equalization by the State of Illinois and to revision by the Mercer County Board of Review. In mid-October of 1979 the county supervisor of assessments, Earl Kissler, received a notification from the State that a tentative county-wide multiplier of 1.4860 had been proposed for Mercer County for 1979. In order to forestall adoption of this county-wide multiplier, the board of review proceeded to compute township multipliers. (In May of 1980 the Department of Revenue certified a multiplier of 1.0554 for Mercer County for the year 1979.)

The board of review during late October of 1979 published notices of the proposed township multipliers and of hearings where taxpayers would have an opportunity to voice objections. According to the record on appeal, at least 300 taxpayers attended one of those hearings. After the hearings were held, the board of review met on November 30, 1979, and adopted the multipliers as proposed. The action of the board establishing township multipliers was subsequently published on December 26 and 27, 1979, but the resulting upward revisions of the assessed valuation of each individual parcel of property were not published.

Sixty-nine persons filed objections to taxes in the cause filed by the county collector to collect delinquent taxes. Those objections sought refunds of real property taxes previously paid under protest and included allegations of several errors by taxing officials. Stated briefly, those objections asserted that each dwelling was assessed without regard to factors that would depreciate its value, that each parcel was assessed at a higher percentage of fair cash value than other property, that no notice of change in assessment had been mailed to objectors, that the publication of the quadrennial assessment was misleading and failed to inform them of the level of assessment or of the possibility that the board of review would attempt to equalize the assessments, that the publication of the board of review's notice of proposed increase in assessment was misleading, and that the method and procedures used to arrive at assessed values as listed on objectors' tax bills were illegal. Some objectors also claimed, inter alia, that their real property was being taxed doubly, that lesser grades of land had been arbitrarily valued by use of a percentage increase rather than on productivity, that Mercer County assessments were excessive as compared to other counties, that the persons performing assessments were not qualified, that the multipliers were not uniform among townships, were illegally applied, and that tax bills failed to reflect assessed values before application of multipliers.

These objections were filed during October of 1980, and on November 26, 1980, a "Compromise Agreement" was entered into between counsel for the objectors and the Mercer County State's Attorney, John D. Sloan. According to testimony adduced at subsequent hearings, Sloan did not notify the county collector or the treasurer of any other taxing units that he was involved in negotiations with the tax objectors, although he did ask the county supervisor of assessments for information concerning board of review actions.

The compromise agreement stated that it was agreed that the county-wide multiplier on farm land be declared null and void and that a refund be awarded representing the difference between the actual tax paid and the corrected tax based upon the assessed valuation times the applicable tax rate. The agreement further stated that each parcel of nonfarm land was valued by methods that were illegal and "contrary to the provisions of Chapter 120, par. 589.1, Illinois Revised Statutes" which requires analysis of 25 property transfers or appraisals when determining a multiplier and which further limits the increase in the aggregate assessment for a township to 25% in one year. It was agreed that all nonfarm landowners were entitled to a refund of those taxes representing the difference between the actual taxes paid and the amount that should have been paid upon the listed assessed value times the State multiplier, less any exemption, times the tax rate. Attached to the agreement were exhibits setting forth the computations of refund in accordance with the formulae agreed to by the parties. Circuit Judge Jay Hanson entered an order approving the compromise agreement and directing the county collector to pay to each objecting taxpayer the amount of refund shown on the exhibits. These exhibits had been prepared by the taxpayers and submitted to the State's Attorney for his approval.

John Sloan's term of office as State's Attorney ended on December 1, 1980, and David Zwicker then assumed that office. The county board of supervisors met December 2 and requested the new State's Attorney to see if the compromise agreement could be vacated, and thereafter the State's Attorney filed the motion to vacate the compromise agreement and order, requesting the court to grant a rehearing and to grant leave for all Mercer County tax levying units to intervene. The motion to vacate asserted errors in the calculation of refunds, stated that section 108a of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 120, par. 589.1) did not take effect until January 1, 1980, and asserted numerous other errors of law and fact.

After an extensive hearing on the motion, Judge Hanson entered an order vacating the compromise agreement and ordering a hearing on the objections. The court based its ruling upon the fact that the agreement was entered into by State's Attorney Sloan without notice to or consent of county officials or other taxing bodies involved. In its written opinion, the trial court stated that the State's Attorney has an attorney-client relationship with the county board and that an absence of notice to the county officials "smacks of simple lack of due process and fairness." The court did not consider the other issues raised in the motion to vacate.

Subsequently a hearing on the objections was held before Judge David DeDoncker and an order was entered invalidating the township multipliers and directing that tax refunds be computed using the assessed valuations as originally published on August 8, 1979, to which should be applied the State multiplier and any exemptions.

The State has appealed from Judge DeDoncker's order, claiming that the township multipliers were adopted in conformity with statutory requirements and should have been upheld. As indicated above, we do not reach that question because we have concluded that Judge Hanson erred in vacating the compromise agreement and order; thus, eliminating the need for a hearing before Judge DeDoncker.

In his opinion deciding that the agreement should be vacated, Judge Hanson, in addition to expressly finding that the State's Attorney has an attorney-client relationship with the county board, found that the statutory authority to enter into compromise agreements "necessarily implies the consent of those people he represents as an attorney, including all of the people of Mercer County, but specifically the County Board and other county officials who would have the burden of carrying out the agreement. * * *. Even if not technically required, such a total absence of notice to the County officials involved, when they were opposed to such action, or to other taxing bodies when they may be involved, smacks of simple lack of due process and fairness." We do not agree.

Section 194 of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 120, par. 675) sets forth the procedure for objecting to taxes, and contains the ...

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