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09/21/95 PETITION VILLAGE VERNON HILLS TO TRANSFER

September 21, 1995

IN RE PETITION OF THE VILLAGE OF VERNON HILLS TO TRANSFER TERRITORY OF THE VERNON FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT TO THE COUNTRYSIDE FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT (THE VILLAGE OF VERNON HILLS, APPELLANT,
v.
VERNON FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT, APPELLEE).



Chief Justice Bilandic delivered the opinion of the court:

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bilandic

CHIEF JUSTICE BILANDIC delivered the opinion of the court:

This case concerns the constitutionality of section 14.14 of the Fire Protection District Act (70 ILCS 705/14.14 (West 1992) (added by Pub. Act 87-825, § 4, eff. December 16, 1991)). We must determine whether section 14.14 is a special or local law in violation of article IV, section 13, of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, § 13).

Section 14.14 creates a mechanism whereby a non-home-rule municipality with more than one fire protection district may transfer territory served by one district into another district. It provides in relevant part:

"(a) In a county having a population of between 500,000 and 750, 000,

territory within the boundaries of a non-home rule municipality that receives fire protection services from more than a single fire protection district may be disconnected from one fire protection district and transferred to the district that provides services to the area comprising more than 80% of the municipality's assessed valuation. To disconnect that territory, *** the corporate authorities of the municipality *** may file a petition in the court in which the district *** was organized, setting forth the [listed requirements]." (Emphasis added.) 70 ILCS 705/14.14(a) (West 1992).

Pursuant to this section, the Village of Vernon Hills (Village) filed a petition to disconnect certain territory served by the Vernon Fire Protection District (Vernon Fire) and transfer it to the Countryside Fire Protection District. Vernon Fire filed an objection to and moved to dismiss the petition on the ground that the classification restricting application of section 14.14 to counties having a population between 500,000 and 750,000 persons violates the special legislation provision of the Illinois Constitution of 1970.

At the hearings, the parties stipulated that the Village is a non-home-rule community in Lake County, which at the time was the only Illinois county with a population between 500,000 and 750,000 persons. The record further establishes that the Village satisfied all the requirements for a section 14.14 transfer. See 70 ILCS 705/14.14(a)(2)(A) through (a)(2)(G)(West 1992).

Following the close of the Village's case, counsel for Vernon Fire introduced into evidence a map of Du Page County showing the boundaries of its municipalities and fire protection districts. The county clerk had certified the map as authentic. Counsel also introduced the 1990 Census of Population and Housing for Illinois. This census listed Du Page County as having a population of 781,666 persons. Other exhibits were introduced which concerned two specific municipalities in Du Page County, the City of Warrenville and the Village of Bloomingdale. Local officials certified that both Warrenville and Bloomingdale are non-home-rule municipalities and are being served by more than one fire protection district. These exhibits also contained statistical evidence relevant to the two municipalities and their fire protection districts. Through all the exhibits, Vernon Fire showed that municipalities located in Du Page County are similarly situated to the Village, but cannot utilize section 14.14 because Du Page County has a population of over 750,000 persons. Vernon Fire therefore contended that section 14.14 arbitrarily discriminates against other municipalities in the State and in favor of the Village.

The circuit court of Lake County found section 14.14 to be constitutional. The circuit court granted the Village's petition and ordered the territory transferred from Vernon Fire to the Countryside Fire Protection District, instanter.

The appellate court reversed, finding section 14.14 to be an unconstitutional special or local law. (265 Ill. App. 3d 46, 637 N.E.2d 1240, 202 Ill. Dec. 504.) The appellate court held that In re Belmont Fire Protection District (1986), 111 Ill. 2d 373, 95 Ill. Dec. 521, 489 N.E.2d 1385, controls the present case. We granted the Village's petition for leave to appeal (145 Ill. 2d R. 315). We now affirm the appellate court.

The special legislation provision of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 provides:

"The General Assembly shall pass no special or local law when a general law is or can be made applicable. Whether a general law is or can be made applicable shall be a matter for judicial determination." (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, § 13.)

This section prohibits the General Assembly from conferring a special benefit or exclusive privilege on a person or a group of persons to the exclusion of others similarly situated. Cutinello v. Whitley (1994), 161 Ill. 2d 409, 417, 204 Ill. Dec. 136, 641 N.E.2d 360; ...


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