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03/07/97 RICHARD T. WALSH AND BARBARA J. WELSCH v.

March 7, 1997

RICHARD T. WALSH AND BARBARA J. WELSCH, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
STATE OF ILLINOIS PROPERTY TAX APPEAL BOARD AND TAZEWELL COUNTY BOARD OF REVIEW, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Tazewell County, Illinois. No. 95-MR-1. Honorable Donald Courson Judge, Presiding.

Released for Publication April 11, 1997.

Present - Honorable William E. Holdridge, Justice, Honorable Peg Breslin, Justice, Honorable John F. Michela, Justice. Justice Holdridge delivered the Opinion of the Court. Michela, J., concurs. Breslin, J., dissents.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Holdridge

JUSTICE HOLDRIDGE delivered the Opinion of the Court:

Plaintiffs, Richard T. Walsh and Barbara J. Welsch, appeal from an order of the circuit court of Tazewell County affirming the decision of the Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB), which found that the Tazewell County Board of Review (Review Board) had properly established the 1992 equalized assessed valuation of $100,000 for the subject parcel of real property owned by the plaintiffs and located in Pekin Township, Tazewell County. The Plaintiffs maintain that the subject property should have had an equalized assessed valuation of $40,850.

The issue presented for our consideration in this matter is whether the method of valuation used by the Review Board to value plaintiffs' property violated the uniformity of taxation clause of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IX, ยง 4) or the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. XIV). We hold that the method of valuation used by the Review Board violated the constitutional requirements of uniformity of taxation and we reverse and remand on that basis.

In order to rule on the plaintiffs' appeal, it is necessary to briefly discuss the history of property taxation in Tazewell County. The townships comprising Tazewell County last conducted a true fair market value assessment of the property within their jurisdiction in 1957. Since 1957, Pekin Township and Tazewell County have determined the assessed valuation of real property solely by means of the "mass appraisal method."

Under the mass appraisal method of assessment, each township assessor begins by calculating the average percent of increase or decrease in home sale prices within the township for the previous three years. This calculation yields a percentage factor that is then applied uniformly to all real property in the township. For the 1992 tax year the Pekin Township assessor uniformly increased the valuation of all real property within the township, including the subject property, by 11.7%.

In January 1993, in response to complaints that certain parcels of real property were "underassessed," the Review Board removed approximately 40 parcels of property from the mass appraisal system. Those properties were re-assessed based upon their current fair market value, which was determined by the most recent selling price, if available, plus yearly mass appraisal method increases for each year between the most recent sale and 1992. The subject property was one of those parcels.

In the case of the subject property, the 1992 selling price paid by the plaintiffs was used to establish the valuation. As a result of this change in method of valuation, the plaintiffs' real estate property tax for 1992 increased to $9,441.40. Had their property been assessed according to the mass appraisal method, the tax would have been $3,830.46. It is undisputed that all other real property in the township, and the county continued have its valuation determined only by the mass appraisal method.

The evidence presented in the hearing before the PTAB established that the plaintiffs' property had an assessment to sales ratio of 28%, i.e. the equalized value assessed valuation established by the Review Board amounted to 28% of the parcel's 1992 sales price. The plaintiffs presented evidence of similar parcels that sold in 1992 that were allowed to remain in the mass appraisal system. These properties had assessment to sales price ratios ranging from 7% to 39%. The Review Board presented evidence of 11 parcels similar to the subject property that were sold in 1992 that remained in the mass appraisal system. These properties had assessment to sales price ratios ranging from 28% to 63%.

The PTAB held that because the subject property's assessment to sales price ratio of 28% was within the range of ratios for comparable properties, i.e. 7% to 63%, the plaintiffs had failed to prove that the constitutional protections of uniformity and equal protection had been violated by removing their property from the mass appraisal system. The plaintiffs then filed this appeal.

Before ruling on the merits of the plaintiffs' appeal, we must determine the proper standard of review. It is well-settled that the findings of an administrative agency are prima facie true and correct and will not be disturbed by a reviewing court unless they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. LaSalle Partners, Inc. v. Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board, 269 Ill. App. 3d 621, 632, 207 Ill. Dec. 101, 646 N.E.2d 935 (1995). However, it is also well-settled that the manifest weight of the evidence standard does not apply where the issue is whether the assessment was based upon "an improper method of valuation rather than a mere difference of opinion as to the market value of a particular piece of property." Chrysler Corp. v. Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board, 69 Ill. App. 3d 207, 210-11, 25 Ill. Dec. 695, 387 N.E.2d 351 (1979). Further, where the question on review is one of law, the decision of the PTAB will be reviewed de novo. Kankakee County Board of Review v. Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board, 131 Ill. 2d 1, 136 Ill. Dec. 76, 544 N.E.2d 762 (1989).

As the matter sub judice involves a question of the method of valuation, rather than a mere difference of opinion over the market value, as well as matters of ...


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