The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rathje
On Petition for Administrative Review from the Property Tax Appeal Board.
PTAB DOCKET NOS. 95--00233--C--1 through 95--00251--C--1
Petitioners, Geneva Community Unit School District Number 304 and Geneva Park District, appeal from a decision of the Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB) dismissing their appeal for lack of jurisdiction. We affirm the decision of the PTAB.
The property at the center of this controversy, Settler's Hill, is owned by the County of Kane. At present, the property is leased to and operated by Waste Management of Illinois (WMI) as a landfill. In 1993, the petitioners filed a mandamus action in the circuit court of Kane County, seeking to compel the Kane County Board of Review (Board) to assess and tax WMI's leasehold interest in Settler's Hill. The circuit court dismissed the mandamus action on the basis that the petitioners had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. The petitioners did not appeal the circuit court's ruling.
Thereafter, the petitioners filed complaints with the Board for both the assessment year 1995 and for an omitted property assessment for the years 1981 through 1994. The Board held a hearing at which all the agreements between Kane County and WMI and its predecessors were admitted into evidence. The Board also allowed testimony concerning the meaning of these agreements. The petitioners' position was that the agreements constituted a lease which was taxable under section 9--195 of the Property Tax Code (Code). 35 ILCS 200/9--195 (West 1994).
The Board determined that WMI did not possess taxable leaseholds of the Settler's Hill landfill but rather " ' operating agreements' for a limited and public purpose and function of waste disposal, landfill and construction of a site suitable for future recreational use. [Citation.]" The Board then concluded as follows:
"Therefore, this Board declares and finds that the complaint claiming 'omitted' properties is without merit and denies the request that the alleged leaseholds be listed and assessed as omitted properties."
However, in its notice of findings, the Board stated as follows:
"REASON - THE KANE COUNTY BOARD OF REVIEW HAS DETERMINED AFTER REVIEW OF ALL THE EVIDENCE AND TESTIMONY THAT AN ASSESSABLE LEASEHOLD DOES NOT EXIST ON SETTLERS HILL LANDFILL AND NO OMITTED PROPERTY ASSESSMENT IS APPLICABLE."
The Board then proceeded to place a $0 valuation on the land and improvements on the Settler's Hill property.
The petitioners then appealed the Board's decision to the PTAB. In their letter to the PTAB notifying it of the appeal, the attorneys for the petitioners stated in pertinent part as follows:
"THIS NOT AN APPEAL OF THE EXEMPT STATUS OF THE UNDERLYING PROPERTY. RATHER, THIS IS AN APPEAL OF THE DECISION OF THE BOARD OF REVIEW WHICH DECISION STATED THAT THE BOARD OF REVIEW FOUND THAT THERE WAS NO ASSESSABLE LEASEHOLD ON SETTLER'S HILL LANDFILL AND AS SUCH, NO OMITTED PROPERTY ASSESSMENT IS APPLICABLE."
By letter dated February 1, 1996, the executive director of the PTAB contacted the attorneys for the petitioners informing them that the PTAB questioned whether it had jurisdiction over the appeal and requested that the jurisdictional question be briefed by the parties. After the parties had submitted legal memoranda, on February 27, 1997, the PTAB issued its decision finding that it did not have jurisdiction over petitioners' appeal. In its order, the PTAB stated:
"The [PTAB] finds that it does not have jurisdiction over the subject matter of this appeal. Although the [petitioners] contend that this is not an appeal of the exempt status of the property, the ultimate issue before the [PTAB] in this appeal would be the determination of whether or not the subject property would be exempt from ...