CHICAGO — A group of Lake County property owners who lost a tax-objection complaint found no relief from a state appellate court, which warned the appeal was meritless and bordered on the frivolous.
The defendants in the suit — Lake County, Antioch Township and the Antioch Road District — asked the court to make the 310 plaintiffs pay for filing what they argue is a frivolous appeal. The court declined, noting there is little case law specifically interpreting the Truth in Taxation law at the heart of the suit.
However, the justices said they agree the appeal has no merit and admonished the plaintiffs’ attorney to be more prudent in future appeals.
Justice Mary Schostok delivered the opinion of the Illinois Second District Appellate Court, with agreement from justices Susan Hutchinson and Ann Jorgensen.
The plaintiffs first filed their complaint in November 2016, seeking a refund from the defendants for tax money they said was illegally collected. The plaintiffs relied on Section 18-60 of Illinois’ Truth in Taxation Law, which instructs taxing bodies to determine “the amounts of money estimated to be necessary to be raised by taxation for that year” at least 20 days prior to adopting the aggregate levy. The plaintiffs said this amount should be documented and made publicly available for at least 20 days before the levy is adopted.
The county insisted it met the burden of the law when it published its 2016 budget estimate, including the aggregate tax levy, on Oct. 9, 2015, 40 days before the budget was adopted by the county board. Furthermore, it said, its levy had increased by less than 5 percent. The sections of the law that concern publication of the intended levy specifically note the law applies only when the aggregate levy is more than 5 percent higher than the previous year.
The township and road district said they also had met the 20-day burden, citing the board meetings at which one body decided to freeze the levy and the other to raise it by $1. Both meetings took place more than 20 days before the levies were adopted, and neither levy met the 5 percent threshold.
Both sides moved for summary judgment, which was granted to the defendants and denied to the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that even if the levy increases were less than 5 percent, the taxing bodies are still required to comply with Section 18-60 by publishing documentation of the planned tax levy at least 20 days before its adoption.
The appellate court found the plaintiffs misinterpreted the section.
“The legislature clearly expressed that the purpose of the Truth in Taxation Law is to require notice and a public hearing if an estimated aggregate levy exceeds 105 percent of the previous year’s levy,” Schostok wrote. “As it is undisputed that the levies at issue did not exceed the 105 percent threshold, the Truth in Taxation Law does not apply to the facts in this case.”
Nowhere in the statute does the legislature require taxing bodies to make a document of the estimated levy amount publicly available, the court wrote. It said the language of the statute is so clear no external aids are needed to interpret it, but if the plaintiffs wanted more proof, they could find it in the legislative history. In its decision, the court included three direct quotes spoken by legislators when the law was being debated in 1981, all of which specifically limit the law’s applicability to levies increased by 5 percent or more.
The original complaint also stated a claim against Grass Lake School District 36, which was settled, and Community High School District 117, which was dismissed.