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The Board of Education of Auburn Community v. the Department of Revenue et al

May 19, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Theis

JUSTICE THEIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.


The issue in this case is whether the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) (35 ILCS 200/18--185 et seq. (West 2006)) applies to all portions of the Auburn Community Unit School District No.10 (Auburn District) after territory in a county that has not considered a PTELL referendum was annexed into the Auburn District. For the reasons that follow, we hold that the entire Auburn District remains subject to the PTELL.


On January 31, 2007, the Regional Board of School Trustees ofSangamon County (Regional Board), pursuant to article 7 of the SchoolCode (105 ILCS 5/7--01 et seq. (West 2006)), dissolved the Divernon Community Unit School District No.13 (Divernon District), which was partially located in Montgomery County, and annexed almost all of the Divernon District territory to the Auburn District. Prior to the annexation, the Auburn District was located entirely within Sangamon County. The annexation gave the Auburn District a small amount of territory in Montgomery County such that the reconstituted district has approximately 99.7% of its equalized assessed valuation (EAV) in Sangamon County with the remaining 0.3% in Montgomery County. Sangamon County voters approved PTELL by referendum in November 1996 and, pursuant to section 18--213(e)(1) (35 ILCS 200/18--213(e)(1) (West 1996)), PTELL became applicable to all non-home-rule taxing districts located exclusively within Sangamon County on January 1, 1997, including the Auburn District. Montgomery County has not considered a PTELL referendum.

The purpose of PTELL is to provide greater citizen control over the levy of the taxes that citizens are required to pay. Acme Markets, Inc. v. Callanan, 236 Ill. 2d 29, 42 (2009). The PTELL limits the increases in property tax extensions and amounts levied by taxing districts in non-home-rule counties in which PTELL is applicable. 35 ILCS 200/18--195 (West 2006). A taxing district subject to PTELL may not ordinarily extend taxes at a rate that exceeds the previous year's extension by more than 5%, or the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is less, without referendum approval. 35 ILCS 200/18--205 (West 2006). County boards of counties other than Cook and the collar counties*fn1 decide whether or not to allow voters to choose by referendum if property tax extensions should be limited. 35 ILCS 200/18--213(a), (b) (West 2006). A PTELL referendum may be placed on the ballot at any election other than a consolidated primary election if the county board passes an ordinance or resolution within the required time period before the election. 35 ILCS 200/18--213(b), (c) (West 2006). After the last referendum affecting a multicounty taxing district is held, the Department of Revenue is responsible for determining whether the taxing district is subject to PTELL and notifying the county clerks of all the counties in which the taxing district is located if the district is subject to PTELL. 35 ILCS 200/18--213(f) (West 2006).

Subsequent to the annexation in 2007, the Auburn District intended to finance improvements at two elementary schools and one middle/high school through the issuance of bonds. The Auburn District was unable to proceed with its plans, however, because it was unclear whether bonds could be issued to finance the project over the debt extension limitation that was in place under PTELL for the EAV located in Sangamon County prior to the annexation. On April 3, 2008, the Sangamon County clerk's office informed the Auburn District that it was treating the reconstituted district as a non-PTELL district for purposes of calculating the district's aggregate tax extension. On April 24, 2008, in connection with the planned bond measure, counsel for the Auburn District sent a letter to the Department of Revenue (Department) seeking an opinion as to whether the reconstituted Auburn District was subject to PTELL.

On August 26, 2008, the Department declined to issue a formal opinion or ruling because it concluded that the statute does not contain an explicit provision that addresses the situation. The Department nonetheless advised the Auburn District that, based upon its analysis of sections 18--213 and 18--214 (35 ILCS 200/18--213, 18--214 (West 2006)), the taxing district remains subject to PTELL and its restrictions. The Department concluded that the applicability of PTELL to the district is consistent with the intent of the PTELL statute to provide transparency and voter participation. The Department emphasized that Sangamon County already voted to approve PTELL and that the vast majority of the district is contained within Sangamon County.

In October 2008, the board of education of Auburn Community Unit School District No.10 (Auburn board) filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in the circuit court of Sangamon County against the Department and Brian Hamer, the Director of Revenue (hereafter Department). The Auburn board sought a declaration that PTELL no longer applied to the Auburn District following the annexation of territory which resulted in the district obtaining some EAV in a county that has not considered a PTELL referendum. In November 2008, theAuburn board amended its complaint to include Sangamon County, Montgomery County, and the clerks of both counties as defendants. In April 2009, the Auburn board moved for summary judgment. Thereafter, the Department filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. The trial court entered summary judgment on behalf of the Auburn board after concluding that under the plain language of section 18--213, PTELL no longer applied to the Auburn District because Montgomery County has never held a PTELL referendum. The Department was the only defendant that appealed.

The appellate court disagreed with the circuit court and concluded that sections 18--213 and 18--214 do not contain a revocation provision for a taxing district that acquires territory through annexation. 398 Ill. App. 3d 629, 637. The appellate court held that section 18--214 provides a specific mechanism for the removal of PTELL and that the mandated referendum for the removal of PTELL from the Auburn District had not taken place in Sangamon County. Id. The appellate court also found that there is no authority under section 18--213 for applying PTELL to the Montgomery County territory that was annexed. Id. The appellate court concluded that "[o]nly public referenda in Montgomery County to adopt or reject then remove PTELL and/or a referendum in Sangamon County to remove PTELL will change the PTELL status of these counties." Id. at 638. Consequently, the appellate court held that the portion of the Auburn District located within Sangamon County would be subject to PTELL, while the portion in Montgomery County would not. Id.

The Auburn board and the Department both filed petitions for leave to appeal that were allowed by this court, which consolidated the cases. Ill. S. Ct. R. 315 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). We apply a de novo standard of review to issues of statutory interpretation and summary judgment rulings. First American Bank Corp. v. Henry, 239 Ill. 2d 511, 515 (2011).


At issue is whether the Auburn District remains subject to PTELL following the annexation. The Auburn board and the Department acknowledge that there is no specific provision in the PTELL statutory framework that addresses the consequence of a PTELLtaxing district acquiring territory via annexation in a county that has not considered PTELL by referendum. The parties both argue that sections 18--213 and 18--214 of the statute should govern our determination of the issue. The Auburn board contends that PTELL does not apply to the entire Auburn District following the annexation because the statute requires that each of the counties in which any of the taxing district's EAV is located have held a PTELL referendum, and Montgomery County has not done so. The Department relies upon the same provisions and argues that once PTELL became applicable to the Auburn District prior to the annexation under section 18--213, the only way to remove PTELL is under the ...

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