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Dundee Township v. Dept. of Revenue

October 15, 2001

DUNDEE TOWNSHIP, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE AND GLEN BOWER, AS DIRECTOR OF THE DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 99-MR-428 Honorable R. Peter Grometer, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

UNPUBLISHED

Plaintiff, Dundee Township (the Township), purchased a parcel of vacant land under a farm lease pursuant to the open space provisions of the Township Code (60 ILCS 1/115--5 et seq. (West 1998)). Plaintiff then sought a property tax exemption for the entire parcel of land pursuant to section 115--115 of the Township Code (60 ILCS 1/115--115 (West 1998)). Plaintiff appeals from the portion of the trial court's order on judicial review that affirmed the decision of the Illinois Department of Revenue that the Township's leasehold interest in a parcel of land did not qualify for a property tax exemption. We affirm.

Under the Township Code, a township may acquire qualifying tracts of land for open space purposes. 60 ILCS 1/115--5 et seq. (West 1998). On April 15, 1996, plaintiff, Dundee Township, adopted an open space program pursuant to the provisions of the Township Code. On July 16, 1997, the Township purchased a parcel of approximately 70.34 acres of vacant land for open space development. At the time of the Township's acquisition, some or all of the property was leased to individuals for commercial farming. The Township renewed the farm lease at an annual rent of $3,000.

Section 115--115 of the Township Code provides for a real estate tax exemption of "[a]ll property acquired by any township for open space purposes pursuant to an open space program *** for assessment year 1988 and each assessment year thereafter." 60 ILCS 1/115--115 (West 1998). On August 5, 1997, the Township sought an open space property tax exemption for the entire parcel pursuant to section 115--115 of the Township Code. The Kane County Board of Review recommended that the Township's entire fee interest in the property was entitled to an exemption for 46% of the year that it was owned by the Township.

The Department of Revenue (the Department) approved the Board of Review's recommendation to grant an exemption for the Township's fee interest for 46% of the 1997 tax year. However, the Department found that a leasehold assessment should be levied against the Township's leasehold interest pursuant to section 9--195 of the Property Tax Code (35 ILCS 200/9--195 (West 1998)).

The Township sought an administrative appeal from the decision of the Department of Revenue. The Department issued a final administrative decision that affirmed its earlier decision to grant the Township an exemption for its fee interest in the property for 46% of the 1997 tax year. The Department also found that the Township lacked standing to seek a tax exemption for the leasehold. The Department found that, under section 9--195 of the Property Tax Code (35 ILCS 200/9--195 (West 1998)), only the lessees were liable for property taxes on leaseholds. As such, the lessees, and not the Township, had a pecuniary interest in the leasehold sufficient to confer standing to challenge assessments against the leasehold. Since the Township did not suffer pecuniary or other loss, the Department ruled that it lacked standing to challenge the leasehold assessment.

The Department further found that, even if the Township had standing to challenge the leasehold assessment, it was not entitled to the exemption of the leasehold interest as a matter of law. Under section 115--115 of the Township Code, only fee interests in real property, and not leasehold interests, were exempt. Therefore, under section 9--195 of the Property Tax Code, the leasehold interest of a nonexempt lessee was taxable.

The Township filed a complaint for administrative review of the decision from the Department of Revenue. 735 ILCS 5/3--103 (West 1998). The complaint alleged that the entire parcel of land was acquired pursuant to the open space provisions of the Township Code and, as such, the entire parcel was exempt from property tax pursuant to section 115--115 of the Township Code.

The trial court ruled that the Township had standing to claim a property tax exemption but that the decision of the Department of Revenue was consistent with the manifest weight of the evidence and not contrary to existing law. The decision of the Department of Revenue was affirmed, and the Township's complaint was dismissed. The Township appeals from the trial court's judgment.

The trial court's authority in reviewing administrative decisions is limited to the powers expressed in the Administrative Review Law (735 ILCS 5/3--101 et seq. (West 1998)). The scope of review of an administrative agency's factual findings is limited to whether those findings are against the manifest weight of the evidence. American National Bank & Trust Co. v. Department of Revenue, 242 Ill. App. 3d 716, 721 (1993). When, as here, the facts are not in dispute, the resolution of the issues is a question of law. City of Chicago v. Illinois Department of Revenue, 147 Ill. 2d 484, 491 (1992).

Initially, we address the Department's contention, raised in its brief, that the Township lacks standing to challenge the Department's determination that the farm lease was subject to a leasehold assessment. In the order from which the Township appeals, the trial court found that the Township had standing but that the Department's decision concerning the leasehold interest was consistent with the manifest weight of the evidence and existing law. The instant appeal from the trial court's order was brought by the Township. The Township challenges the trial court's affirmance of the decision of the Department of Revenue that the Township was not entitled to a tax exemption for its leasehold interest in the property. To preserve the issue of standing for review, the Department was required to file a cross-appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 303. 155 Ill. 2d R. 303(a)(3). Raising the issue of standing in its brief without filing a cross-appeal is insufficient. Since the Department did not file a cross-appeal from the portion of the trial court's order that found the Township had standing, this court lacks jurisdiction to consider this issue on appeal.

Turning to the merits of the Township's appeal, all property is presumed to be subject to taxation. American National Bank, 242 Ill. App. 3d at 722. Statutes granting exemptions are construed strictly in favor of taxation. The party claiming the exemption has the burden of proving that the exemption applies. Girl Scouts of Du Page County Council, Inc. v. Department of Revenue, 189 Ill. App. 3d 858, 861 (1989).

At issue is whether the property acquired pursuant to the Township's open space program but leased for commercial farming purposes was entitled to an exemption ...


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