By: Brittany Flaherty Theis
In April 2019, the Second District of the Illinois Appellate Court issued its decision in Mandigo v. Stolman, 2019 IL App (2d) 180466, a tax objection case involving the Truth in Taxation Law, which consists of sections 18-55 to 18-100 of the Property Tax Code. In Mandigo, the tax objectors sought a refund from several taxing districts alleging, in part, that the taxing districts’ tax levies for 2016 were invalid due to a failure to comply with section 18-60 of the Truth in Taxation Law. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the taxing districts did not estimate the amount of taxes to be levied as required by section 18-60.
Section 18-60 requires taxing districts to estimate the amounts of money necessary to be levied for that year at least twenty days prior to adopting their aggregate levies. 35 ILCS 200/18-60. Plaintiffs argued that section 18-60 requires taxing districts to determine, at least 20 days prior to adopting any tax levy, the amount of taxes to be levied and record this determination in a document. Taken one step further, plaintiffs argued that once this document is created, the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act require this document to be made available to the public. The plaintiffs took the position that this determination and document must be recorded regardless of whether the adopted levy is greater than 105% of the prior year’s levy, and failure to do so is a substantive error necessitating invalidation of the subsequent levy.
In response to cross motions for summary judgment, the trial court held that the Truth in Taxation Law was not applicable in the instant case because the taxing district’s levy did not exceed 105% of the prior year’s levy, and thus, that taxing district was not required to comply with section 18-60. The trial court also noted: (1) that even if the Truth in Taxation Law applied, the plaintiffs failed to allege the levy was unjust; and (2) that any error or informality in assessing the levy would not invalidate the levy where the tax itself was substantially just. In such instances, plaintiffs have the burden of overcoming the presumption that taxes assessed comply with the law and are substantially just, which burden the plaintiffs did not meet in Mandigo.
The Appellate Court relied upon the plain language of the Truth in Taxation Law, when read in whole, and agreed with the trial court. Essentially, because the levies did not exceed the 105% threshold, the taxing districts were not required to comply with the Truth in Taxation Law. In so holding, the Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. In its decision, the Appellate Court stated: “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% of the previous year’s levy. As it is undisputed that the levies at issue did not exceed the 105% threshold, the Truth in Taxation Law does not apply to the facts in this case.” It went on to acknowledge that “an aggregate levy must be estimated to determine whether the Truth in Taxation law is applicable. However, while section 18-60 requires a determination of the estimated amount of taxes to be levied, it does not require that a document be made publicly available.” To require such documentation would add a condition to the statute that the legislature did not express.
The Appellate Court’s decision in Mandigo provides insight to taxing districts that did not previously exist. Strictly speaking, we now know the Truth in Taxation Law does not require taxing districts to prepare a formal document containing estimates of the taxes to be levied for the year. That said, it is best to work with legal counsel to determine whether it is advisable for your taxing district to go beyond the plain letter of the Truth in Taxation Law and provide written documentation of the your taxing district’s estimate of the amount of taxes to be levied in any given year.
If you have questions regarding the Mandigo decision, the Truth in Taxation Law, or the property tax assessment, levy, extension, and collection process, please contact Whitt Law Attorney Brittany Flaherty Theis.