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May 25, 2024

Macoupin County-Owned Farms –

By John Kraft & Kirk Allen

On October 25, 2023

Macoupin County, Ill. (ECWd) –

We surveyed the various counties purporting to lease county-owned farm ground, which were named in a newspaper article written about the Shelby County Farm. Each county listed in that article received a Freedom of Information Act request from us asking for information on their county-owned farm ground and the leasing of the ground.

As with any public body where you start looking into any given matter, there is always a rabbit hole turning up more problems.

Read the Macoupin County FOIA response (here) on their website, which includes all of the county-owned land leases.

Macoupin County has four separate land parcels, one is leased to a for-profit corporation, Central Illinois Steel Company, on a 99-year lease first entered into in 1970 (with an “evergreen clause” for another 99 years). We believe the contract violates the Illinois Automatic Contract Renewal Act and Article VIII Section 1(a) of our State Constitution.

Another contract is with the Macoupin County Fair and Agricultural Association (Not for Profit). The other two parcels (13 acres and 14 acres) are being leased on a cash-rent basis for $50 per acre and $227 per acre respectively with a provision that the Landlord (The County) pays the property tax on the 13-acre lease.  Such a provision violates well-established law on who is obligated to pay property tax on leased government property.  The 14-acre lease also includes an evergreen provision and is silent on property tax obligation.

It is noted that the 14-acre parcel has been developed for an Industrial Park and ground sold during the crop season would result in the leaseholder being reimbursed for expenses.

Even though years ago the Illinois Attorney General issued an opinion that county governments could not lease their farm ground to a private farmer for a private purpose, all indications are that Mcoupin County chose to ignore the AG and the law rather than follow the AG’s opinion and the law as Shelby County did recently. Why anyone would point to a county that clearly is not following the law or guidance of the AG as justification to do the same thing is beyond our comprehension.

The same public purpose concept holds true for the property leased to CISCO – it must have been for a public purpose, and we seriously doubt the leasing of a county’s public property to a for-profit corporation has any public purpose whatsoever, however, further research may reveal how this lease occurred. We reached out to the State’s Attorney for comment on the CISCO lease and have received no response.  CISCO is paying property taxes on this property. The CISCO lease will be the subject of a future article.

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Quotes from the Logan County Opinion:

There is no statutory authority that authorizes Logan County to lease its property for private purposes. In addition, the leasing of property by Logan County for private purposes violates section 1(a) of article VIII of the Illinois Constitution.”(emphasis added)

The letter requesting the opinion noted that, notwithstanding the issuance of opinion No. NP-843 and other Attorney General opinions, “the Logan County Board, and I am sure other county boards throughout the State of Illinois, continue to hold farming lands and operate farms in violation of statute. ” 1975 lll. Att’y Gen. Op. at 298.” (emphasis added)

Some say the Logan County letter is invalid since it is dated in the mid-1970s, however, the Attorney General’s June 3, 2021, letter to the former Shelby County State’s Attorney Nichole Kroncke cited to that Logan County opinion and many others, when the AG again indicated that counties did not possess the power to lease county farmland to private farmers for the private farmer’s financial gain.

Some also say the Yackley v Johnson case law from 1938 is way too old to be valid, but yet again, the Attorney General cited that case in his letter to SA Kroncke dated June 3, 2021.  Most interesting in that case is the following quote: “The powers of counties are public and they are not authorized to go into private business.”

Good case law is good case law, no matter how old it is.

Virtual nothing has changed related to the leasing of county farmland to a private farmer for his own financial profit and section 1(a) of Article VIII of the Illinois Constitution, even after the enactment of Public Act 103-0415.

Leasing county-owned property to a public or private entity has always been permitted.  However, just as outlined in numerous AG opinions and case law, there is no authorization to lease such property for a private purpose.

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