Appeal from the Circuit Court of Henry County; the Hon. Robert
W. Castendyck, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE STOUDER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
G. Herbert Johnson, county treasurer and county collector (collector), applied to the circuit court of Henry County for the sale of land delinquent in payment of 1979 real estate taxes. Carl Abrahamson, together with other farmers owning land sought to be sold (objectors), filed individual objections to the application for sale which were consolidated for hearing before the circuit court of Henry County. The substance of the objections was the same and alleged the invalidity of the 1979 reappraisal and reassessment of farmland, farm buildings and farm dwellings. The trial court held the reassessment of farmland invalid, from which part of the judgment the collector has appealed, and also held the reassessment of farm buildings and farm dwellings was proper, from which judgment the objectors have cross-appealed. In a companion case, the objectors commenced an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982) for alleged constitutional violations. This latter case is the subject of an appeal in this court in No. 3-84-0449.
In 1977, the legislature passed the farmland assessment act, which in section 20e of the Revenue Act of 1939 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 120, par. 501e) provides the manner and method of assessment of farmland. This section mandates that the equalized value of farmlands be established by a formula largely dependent on the productivity of parcels of farmland or parts thereof. The productivity is to be determined by using soil maps, productivity indices and other relevant data.
In 1979, Harry Blancher, the supervisor of assessments (supervisor), increased the assessment value of all farmlands in Henry County by adding 12% of the 1978 assessed valuation to the 1978 assessment. He did so, as he testified, because the productivity index applicable to the best farmland had increased by approximately 12% from a year earlier. Consequently, he increased all of the assessments for farmland by the 12% multiplier even though such prior assessments represented cash value assessments without regard to relative productivity differences mandated by the new assessment plan.
There were also reassessments of farm improvements and farm dwellings in 1979 to which objections were also interposed. The details of both the manner of assessments and the objections will be discussed as they become relevant to the errors discussed in this opinion.
The trial court found that the 12% multiplier was based solely "upon the Assessor's own private opinion and failed to consider the necessary factors required by the Farmland Assessment Act" and ordered that the objectors be refunded the 12% across the board increase. The collector has appealed from this part of the judgment. The trial court affirmed the assessment of farm improvements and farm dwellings, from which part of the judgment the objectors have appealed.
• 1, 2 The collector first argues the objectors' failure to present evidence of overvaluation of the land under his method made it impossible for the objectors to establish constructive fraud and, therefore, the assessment must be accorded a presumption of propriety. Recently, the Illinois Supreme Court set out the standards of review of a property tax assessment in People v. International Business Machines Corp. (1982), 89 Ill.2d 287, 432 N.E.2d 867, noting that a showing of fraud or constructive fraud is required before a property tax assessment will be reviewed. (La Salle National Bank v. County of Cook (1974), 57 Ill.2d 318, 312 N.E.2d 252.) The supreme court then set forth guidelines for establishing constructive fraud.
"Assessments that are disproportionately higher than those for similar property or assessments that are based on the assessor's own private opinion showing lack of knowledge or a lack of honest judgment are indicative of constructive fraud. [Citations.] Similarly, overvaluation may be so excessive, under some circumstances, as to justify the conclusion that it was not honestly made and, therefore, is constructively fraudulent." (People v. International Business Machines Corp. (1982), 89 Ill.2d 287, 293, 432 N.E.2d 867, 870-71.)
In this case, the trial court found that the assessments were based upon the assessor's own private opinion, and, indeed, the evidence supports this conclusion by the trial court. The evidence that the assessor was told to implement the act is uncontroverted. The assessor was aware that he needed soil maps and surveys to implement the act, and he failed to take any steps to obtain such maps until after this proceeding commenced. No other county employed a similar method. Furthermore, requiring the objectors to prove the value of land under the act would have required them to prepare soil maps and surveys, which was the statutory obligation of Henry County. We therefore find that the trial court's determination that the assessor based the assessments on his own opinion is supported by the evidence and is a method of proving constructive fraud recognized by the Illinois Supreme Court in People v. International Business Machines Corp. (1982), 89 Ill.2d 287, 432 N.E.2d 867.
As his second issue, the collector contends that the trial court erred in holding the assessor did not exercise an honest judgment as to what base data were useful in implementing the farmland assessment act. This argument misinterprets the problem before the trial court. As the supreme court stated in People v. International Business Machines Corp., "Once the presumption of the validity of the assessment is overcome, it becomes incumbent upon the assessor to produce evidence to justify the assessment." (People v. International Business Machines Corp. (1982), 89 Ill.2d 287, 293, 432 N.E.2d 867, 871.) Neither the assessor nor the county can avoid the statutory responsibility for securing and providing maps, surveys or other data from which weighted productivity indices can be ascertained and applied to the various kinds of farmland in Henry County. If, as shown by the evidence, the detailed surveys which would have been made appropriate for making the assessments were not available and their unavailability was in fact due to the lack of diligence on the part of the assessor or county, the question still remains whether the assessor utilized whatever less appropriate data was available, and in this respect the trial court also found the assessor wanting. There is much testimony about soil association maps, conservation maps and other surveys which could have been utilized by the assessor. When all of these factors are considered together, they provide adequate support for the trial court's conclusion the assessor adopted his personal opinion of assessment values, and they did not evidence a good faith effort to comply with the statutory requirements. The reassessment did, of course, represent repetition of the cash value method in large measure and was unauthorized by statute.
This brings us to the cross-appeal and the objectors' argument that the reassessment of farm buildings and the reassessment of farm dwellings were also contrary to law and should have been rejected by the trial court.
The argument of the objectors is the reassessment of farm dwellings and farm buildings in 1979 is constitutionally impermissible because the owners of farm dwellings and buildings are denied equal protection of the laws.
In 1975 Henry County contracted with Vanguard Appraisal, Inc., of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to make a complete quadrennial appraisal of all parcels of property in Henry County except farmland and exempt property. The quadrennial reassessment was due in 1979, and the initial contract provided that the appraisers would complete their work by January 1, 1979. Because of delays, the contract was amended to provide that the reappraisals would be finished by January 1, 1980.
The appraisals for farm dwellings and farm improvements were completed by May of 1979, turned over to the assessor and became the effective assessment of farm dwellings and farm improvements for the year 1979. No reassessments for property other than farm dwellings and farm improvements were finished by Vanguard prior to June 1, 1979. These other assessments ...