Appeal from the Circuit Court of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois No. 95--TX--15656 The Honorable William Penn Presiding Judge
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Koehler
IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
The defendant, Will County collector (Collector), appeals the judgment of the Will County circuit court sustaining the objection of the plaintiff, Commonwealth Edison Company (Edison), to the 1994 Will County tort immunity and workmen's compensation tax levies. The question before this court is: Did the circuit court err in sustaining Edison's tax objections because the levies were adopted prior to the effective date of an amendment to the statutory corporate rate and, therefore, were illegal because they exceeded the maximum rate? Because we conclude that the circuit court erred, we reverse.
The parties stipulated to the following facts. In an unrelated action, In re Application of the Du Page County Collector, 243 Ill. App. 3d 823, 612 N.E.2d 866 (1993), the Illinois Appellate Court for the Second District in 1993 sustained taxpayer objections to Du Page County's 1985 tax levies concluding that under section 5--1024 of the Counties Code (55 ILCS 5/5--1024 (West 1992)) the 1985 tort immunity tax levy was not excepted from the general corporate rate. The circuit court of Will County, relying on the second district's ruling, subsequently sustained Edison's objections to Will County's 1992 and 1993 tort immunity and worker's compensation levies, concluding that they were invalid to the extent that they exceeded the maximum general corporate rate authorized in the Counties Code (55 ILCS 5/5--1024 (West 1992)). On appeal, this court relying on the second district ruling, issued a Rule 23 (134 Ill. 2d R. 23) in Application of the Will County Collector ex rel. Weber v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 3-96-0087 (1996), affirming the circuit court's judgment that the 1992 and 1993 tax levies were illegal to the extent that they exceeded the corporate rate. Prior to the issuance of that ruling, however, the Illinois General Assembly had amended the Counties Code and the Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Tort Immunity Act) (745 ILCS 10/1--101 et seq. (West 1992)). The Counties Code continued to set the maximum county corporate property tax levy at 0.25 per $100 assessed value. However, the amendment provided that the tort immunity levy is to be exclusive of and in addition to the corporate rate limit. It also added language to validate levies adopted in reliance on the amendment. The amendment, Public Act 88-545 (the Act), was signed into law on June 27, 1994, with an effective date of January 1, 1995.
Will County adopted its 1994 general corporate, tort immunity and workmen's compensation levies on November 17, 1994. It adopted the following rates: (1) the corporate rate levied was at 0.25 per $100 assessed value; (2) the tort immunity rate was levied at 0.0223 per $100 assessed value; and (3) the worker's compensation rate was levied at 0.0155 per $100 assessed value. The levy resulted in a total of 0.2878 per $100 assessed value. The county extended the tax levies against the property after January 1, 1995, the Act's effective date. Edison paid the taxes in 1995 when due and filed a tax objection complaint. The circuit court sustained the objection on the grounds that: (1) the tort immunity levy was not an exception to the general corporate maximum rate limit; and (2) the Act applied prospectively only and, therefore, rates levied prior to its effective date were not subject to it. The Collector now appeals.
Where facts are uncontroverted and the issue is the circuit court's application of the law to such facts, a question of law is presented, and we review de novo. Bank One Milwaukee, N.A. v. Loeber Motors, Inc., 293 Ill. App. 3d 14, 20, 687 N.E.2d 1111, 1115-16 (1997). We must determine the correctness of the ruling on the question of law independently of the circuit court's judgment. South Suburban Safeway Lines, Inc. v. Regional Transportation Authority, 166 Ill. App. 3d 361, 365, 519 N.E.2d 1005, 1008 (1988).
The Collector argues that Edison did not have a vested right that would have been affected by the application of the Act to the instant action. Therefore, the circuit court should have decided the objection under the Act, and, on review, this court should likewise apply the Act. Accordingly, the Act specifically exempts the tort immunity levy from the corporate rate limit, and, consequently, Edison's objection to the levy should not have been sustained. Furthermore, Will County adopted the levies in reliance on the Act which the legislature passed in reaction to the second district's holding that the tort immunity levy was to be included in the corporate rate. Moreover, the Act contains a validation clause on taxes levied in reliance on the Act. Therefore, the county's levies were legal and valid.
Edison responds that the legislature's use of an effective date in the Act and the Act's plain language evidence the legislature's intention that (1) the Act applies prospectively only; (2) it applies to levies adopted in reliance on its enactment; and (3) it does not apply to levies adopted prior to the Act's effective date. Edison maintains that the Collector, however, did not adopt the 1994 levies in reliance on the Act; it merely continued adopting its levies as it had in prior years. Accordingly, the tort immunity levy must be included in the general corporate rate limit because to do otherwise would create a new tax obligation. Furthermore, the previous court decisions concluding that Will County's taxes were illegal and void to the extent they exceed the statutory limit settled the issue and created a vested right to have the taxes assessed under the law as it existed prior to the Act. Lastly, the Collector levied the taxes knowing that the taxes would be paid because the only recourse available to a taxpayer is to pay and then file an objection seeking a refund. In sum, Edison urges this court to affirm the circuit court's decision sustaining its objection.
Does the language of the Act permit it to be applied to a levy adopted prior to its effective date? In interpreting a statute, the court will give effect to the legislature's intent. Burke v. 12 Rothschild's Liquor Mart, Inc., 148 Ill. 2d 429, 593 N.E.2d 522 (1992). The plain language, if not ambiguous, should be given effect. Piatak v. Black Hawk College District No. 503, 269 Ill. App. 3d 1032, 647 N.E.2d 1079 (1995). Public Act 88-545 amended the Counties Code as follows: "A county board may cause to be levied and collected annually, except as hereinafter provided, taxes for county purposes, including all purposes for which money may be raised by the county by taxation, *** at a rate not exceeding .25% *** except taxes levied under Section 9--107 of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act. Those taxes a county has levied and excepted from the rate limitation imposed by this Section or Section 25.05 of 'An Act to revise the law in relation to counties, approved March 31, 1874, in reliance on this amendatory Act of 1994 are not invalid because of any provision of this Section that may be construed to or may have been construed to restrict or limit those taxes levied and those taxes are hereby validated. This validation of taxes levied applies to all cases pending on or after the effective date of this amendatory Act of 1994. Pub. Act 88-545, section 5--1024 eff. January 1, 1995 (amending 55 ILCS 5/5--1024 (West 1992)) (additions indicated by italics).
The Tort Immunities Act was amended as follows:
"With respect to taxes levied under this Section, either before, on, or after the effective date of this amendatory Act of 1994:"
"(1) Those taxes are excepted from and shall not be included within the rate limitation imposed by law on taxes levied for general corporate purposes by the local public entity ...