June 22, 1999
KANKAKEE COUNTY BOARD OF REVIEW, PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT,
ILLINOIS PROPERTY TAX APPEAL BOARD, GARY KOLESAR AND JUDY KOLESAR, DEFENDANTS/APPELLEES. KANKAKEE COUNTY BOARD OF REVIEW, PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT,
ILLINOIS PROPERTY TAX APPEAL BOARD AND EDWARD STUPARITZ, DEFENDANTS/APPELLEES.
Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Twenty-First Judicial Circuit, Kankakee County, Illinois No. 97--MR**12 No. 97--MR**43 Honorable Fred S. Carr Judge Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Koehler
IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
The plaintiff in these property tax assessment reclassification actions, Kankakee County Board of Review (Board of Review), appeals the Kankakee County circuit court's decision affirming the defendant Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board's (PTAB) Conclusion that the three-acre portions of defendant Kolesars' five acre property and defendant Stuparitz's five acre property were entitled to a farmland classification and assessment for tax purposes. On appeal we must decide whether the PTAB erred in concluding that the three acres at issue were used solely for the growing and harvesting of crops. Because we conclude the PTAB did not err, we affirm.
I. BACKGROUND FACTS
3-98-0391 Gary and Judy Kolesar
In 1988, defendants Gary and Judy Kolesar purchased a five-acre parcel of property. The Kolesars' home sits on approximately two acres of the property, and they lease the remaining three acres to a third party for the sole purpose of growing and harvesting crops. These three acres have been used as farmland for many years, at least since the Kolesars purchased the property in 1988.
Until 1994, the five-acre tract was classified and assessed as partially residential and partially farmland. In 1994, the Manteno Township assessor determined that the primary use of the property was residential, reclassified it as entirely residential, and assessed it accordingly. The Board of Review upheld the assessment.
The Kolesars appealed to the PTAB, requesting a farmland classification of the three acres used solely for farming purposes. The PTAB determined that the three-acre farmed portion was entitled to a farmland classification and assessment because the three acres were used solely for farming and had been since 1988.
3-98-0392 Edward Stuparitz
In 1992, a parcel of property consisting of 5.4 acres was deeded to the Mary H. Stuparitz Living Trust. Defendant Edward and Mary Stuparitz are the trustees of the property. A house, garage, barn, corn crib, machine shed, milk shed, small orchard, and yard sit on the property. Although the house is habitable, no one lives on the property. Mr. Stuparitz, who lives in nearby Oak Lawn, visits the property for a day at a time about 40 to 50 times a year.
Stuparitz leases approximately three acres of the property to P & H Johnson who grows crops such as soybeans and corn on these three acres. Johnson has farmed these three acres since 1975. Johnson also farms adjoining land which has no physical separation from Stuparitz's farmed acreage.
Until 1994, the Stuparitz property was assessed as farmland. In 1994, the Momence Township assessor determined that its primary use was residential, reclassified the entire 5.4 acres as residential, and assessed it accordingly. The Board of Review upheld the assessment.
Stuparitz appealed his 1994 assessment to the PTAB. The PTAB concluded that the three-acre farmed portion of Stuparitz's property was used solely for growing and harvesting crops and had been since 1975, and, thus, was entitled to a farmland classification and assessment.
In its decision ordering the Board of Review to compute and certify a farmland assessment for the Kolesars' and Stuparitz's properties, the PTAB acknowledged the County's reliance on the Department of Revenue's "Guideline on Primary Use Provisions of Farm Definition" *fn1 , but noted that the guideline is advisory.
The Board of Review appealed the PTAB decision with respect to both properties to the circuit court. The court found that the PTAB's classification and assessments of the properties as farmland were not against the manifest weight of the evidence, and the Board of Review appealed. We consolidate the appeals and now affirm.
Under the Administrative Review Law, judicial review extends to all questions of law and fact presented by the record. Illini Country Club v. State Property Tax Appeal Board, 263 Ill. App. 3d 410, 416-17, 635 N.E.2d 1347, 1353 (1994). An agency's findings on questions of law, such as the interpretation of a statute, are not binding on the courts. When a question of law is presented below, the reviewing court considers the question de novo. Illini Country Club, 263 Ill. App. 3d at 416-17, 635 N.E.2d at 1353. However, the agency's findings of fact will not be disturbed on review unless they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. Illini Country Club, 263 Ill. App. 3d at 416-17, 635 N.E.2d at 1353.
McLean County Board of Review v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 286 Ill. App. 3d 1076, 1081, 678 N.E.2d 313, 317 (1997) explains that Section 200/1-60 of the Property Tax Code governs the classification of the parcels at issue:
"Farm. When used in connection with valuing land and buildings for an agricultural use, any property used solely for the growing and harvesting of crops; for the feeding, breeding and management of livestock; for dairying or for any other agricultural or horticultural use or combination thereof; including, but not limited to hay, grain, fruit, ***. The dwellings and parcels of property on which farm dwellings are immediately situated shall be assessed as a part of the farm. For purposes of this Code, "farm" does not include property which is primarily used for residential purposes even though some farm products may be grown or farm animals bred or fed on the property incidental to its primary use." 35 ILCS 300/1**60 (West 1994).
Were the subject 3 acre properties used solely for the growing and harvesting of crops such that the properties fall within the statutory definition of "farm?" The definition of a farm is "very broad." McLean County Board of Review, 286 Ill. App. 3d at 1081, 678 N.E.2d at 317. For tax assessment purposes, our court has concluded that the present use of the land determines whether it receives agricultural or nonagricultural valuation. Santa Fe Land Improvement Co. v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 113 Ill. App. 3d 872, 875, 448 N.E.2d 3, 6 (1983). A parcel of property may properly be classified as partially farmland, provided those portions of property so classified are used solely for the growing and harvesting of crops. Santa Fe, 113 Ill. App. 3d at 875, 448 N.E.2d at 6. Our court further concluded that lands that were currently being farmed, and that had been used as farmland for many years, and that had not been "improved," were used solely for the growing and harvesting of crops. Santa Fe, 113 Ill. App. 3d at 876, 448 N.E.2d at 6. Accordingly, our court concluded that where the property was used solely for the growing and harvesting of crops, it also was devoted primarily to the raising and harvesting of crops. Santa Fe, 113 Ill. App. 3d at 876, 448 N.E.2d at 6. The Dissent's interpretation of "primary" use of the land ignores our prior holding and would, instead, effectuate the Department of Revenue's advisory guidelines which we reject. *fn2
Here, the PTAB found the land at issue: (1) was previously assessed as farmland; (2) had been used solely for the purpose of growing crops for many years; (3) use had not changed since the last assessment; and (4) the land surrounding the properties at issue currently were actually farmed.
When these unrebutted facts are Judged in accordance with the proper standard of review, this court concludes that the PTAB decisions classifying the parcels as farmland for tax purposes were not against the manifest weight of the evidence.Nevertheless, the Board of Review maintains that the PTAB erred as a matter of law when it failed to determine that the subject properties, as a whole, were primarily used for residential purposes. *fn3 A plain reading of the governing statute shows that the definition of farm does not require that property classification be based on the primary use of the parcel as a whole. Rather, property that is used solely for the growing and harvesting of crops is properly classified as farmland, even if that farmland is part of a parcel that has other uses. Santa Fe Land Improvement Co., 113 Ill. App. 3d at 875, 448 N.E.2d at 6.
Accordingly, we conclude that the PTAB decisions when Judged in accordance with the proper standard of review, were not erroneous and, thus, we affirm.
In sum, we conclude that the PTAB did not err in reversing the Board of Review: (1) the three-acre portions of the Kolesar and Stuparitz five-acre properties were used solely for farming purposes, and (2) after so determining, the three-acre portions were entitled to a farmland classification and assessment.
JUSTICE HOLDRIDGE, P.J., concurs.