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May 20, 2024

Shelby County – Details and Facts Do Matter Re: County Farm –

By Kirk Allen & John Kraft

On July 7, 2023

Shelby Co. (ECWd) –

A recent letter to the editor sent to the Beecher City Journal and published in April of this year is an example of how not knowing the facts on a matter leads to misinformation being spread. We will go through the letter and point out important details and facts that failed to appear in the letter.

“Rob Hanlon, was in Springfield opposing a farm bill that would change the wording in the state statue to allow counties to farm and lease property the way it has been done for years. The argument has been that it doesn’t serve a public purpose“.

There is no “argument” regarding leasing county property to a private entity that uses it for profit not having a public purpose, outside of those who do not understand the legal standard on public purpose. The Attorney General of Illinois and numerous courts have spoken to this issue and when the primary purpose of the property being used only serves the interest of the private entity, it does not serve a public purpose.  There is a two-prong test when it comes to meeting the public purpose requirement when leasing public property.  The funds paid to the County are only 1 prong of that test.  The second prong is the primary use of the property and it must benefit the public, not a single entity who profits from the lease.

“I can’t imagine what personal reason one would have to get rid of a property that the county has owned since 1867”.

While we can not speak to “personal” reasons why one would get rid of property they own, it’s important to understand the government purpose for which the land was intended is no longer the case. That being a fact, it would seem prudent to look at this from an actual profit & loss analysis as part of any asset management analysis.  If a proper analysis were to be done it might turn out to be in the best interest of the county to keep it or sell it.  Until such an analysis is completed, any position a person has on keeping or selling the farm appears to be more about feelings and opinions rather than facts.

“Why would we want to get rid of our land that has helped this county thrive and prosper?

There is zero evidence in at least the last 20 years that the county-owned farm ground has helped the county thrive and prosper.  Considering the income generated accounts for about .5% of the total revenue until this year for the county, it seems illogical to attribute such a small percentage of income as the reason for a county to thrive and prosper, assuming they are in fact thriving and prospering.

“A piece of history that shows how community is important and coming together to take care of each other to serve a greater cause. If that does not count as a public purpose, then I don’t know what does.”

While a true statement up until 1958 when the Poor Farm she speaks of was closed, once it was closed and later torn down, the history is now in books and records, not in the dirt it once stood on.  We fully agree the poor farm had a public purpose.  However, to imply that the past public purpose is somehow present today through leasing it out to a private farmer is simply misinformation, and doing so violates the State Constitution.

“Last year, it brought in $170,000 for our county that was generously farmed for free by Stu Fox”

I believe anyone could show a great profit when they have no expenses but the fact remains, she fails to disclose or even discuss the other expenses involved, some of which have other legal concerns yet to be resolved, such as the taxation of the property and how some in the county are paying for services they never receive because of the county paying property tax on what should be tax exempt property. The recent property tax bill shows yet another increase, now $6,894.79.  Government property should be tax-exempt and not cost the taxpayers.  Accounting for the above-referenced revenue, the actual current income for the year is $110,564.19

“The reason we have the “Poor Farm is to take care of the citizens of Shelby County. In my opinion, it has a public purpose.”

Shelby County no longer has a “Poor Farm” as it was closed in 1958. To continue to call farm ground a Poor Farm is misinformation. The reason the County has the farm ground is that they did not sell it when the poor farm closed like most other counties did.

The legal term “public purpose” is not about how one feels or what their opinion is.  It is a legal term used by the courts that requires a specific analysis of facts to determine if a lease of public property is compliant with the State Constitution, which requires the use of all public property to be for a public purpose.  The courts, multiple times, have determined a lease of government property being used primarily by a single entity for their own profit does not meet the public purpose test.

As it relates to counties leasing farm grounds in Illinois, even the new law requires any such lease to meet the public purpose obligation found in the Constitution and that fact was even expressed in both chambers in Springfield, the House of Representatives and the Senate, when the bill went through its third reading and voted on. That fact is crystal clear and while we understand some either refuse or are simply unable to comprehend the reality of the matter, any leased property must still comply with our State Constitution which has not changed since 1970.

I think if more people understood Dillon’s Rule and how to properly apply it to our current laws we would be better off. I think the Illinois Farm Bureau newsletter from 2014 spoke to Dillon’s Rule quite well.

“The best of intentions are sometimes stymied by the best of intentions”.

 

 

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