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May 24, 2024

Public Purpose For Dummies – Limitations on Government Property

By Kirk Allen & John Kraft

On April 9, 2024

Illinois (ECWd) –

Over the last 13 years of learning about local government and the limitations placed upon them in our laws and state constitution, it has become clear to us that many people do not understand the proper application of Public Purpose for a few reasons.

  1. We are the ones explaining it. – When you don’t like the message, attack the messenger and refuse to accept anything they provide. We find this to be the case a lot when the message goes against their desire to do what they want rather than what the law and constitution permit.
  2. Failure to properly research. – Common problem as it takes time, focus, and a whole lot of reading case law, statutes, and our constitution.
  3. Some people are dumb.

Yes, we said some people are dumb, and anyone who can’t accept that probably falls under the first category above.  Regardless of a person’s mental prowess, if they can’t understand what is explained by the courts when they issue their rulings or the Attorney General in their providing of opinions, this article is not for them.

Understanding the proper application of public purpose requires understanding statutory construction, legislative intent, Dillons Rule, and even statutory prohibitions.  Fortunately for us, we don’t have to explain all of those because it’s all clearly explained in the 22 Attorney General opinions listed below.  On the point of legislative intent, courts routinely turn to floor debates to identify their intent.  Anyone who wants to imply a recent piece of legislation for county government as it relates to their farm ground is no longer subject to the restraints of the Constitution is ill-advised, as is evident in the actual video of the Senator who presented the bill in its final Senate version.  The same position was held in the House during the final vote but we do not have that video at the time of publication. UPDATE : (House Floor Video here)

For those who are truly interested in truth and honest analysis, we do provide a few key points to remember when reading through these AG opinions. For those that fall into the first category above, kill the messenger, the items below are not our opinions.  They are all taken from case law and ag opinions shown below.

  • Laws have permitted the leasing of government property for many years, just as they do today.  However, there is no statutory provision for the government to lease for a private purpose, nor could they because the Constitution, supported by case law, forbids it.  
  • Numerous AG opinions have clearly stated, that leasing ground to a farmer for his private use is not a public purpose.
  • Government property being used for nonpublic purposes is subject to property tax.
  • When new laws attempt to clarify leasing rights, it does not remove the obligations found in the Constitution. A recent Senate video proves that.
  • If there is any doubt about the power of a government body, the doubt is resolved against the government, and the power is denied. – Dillons Rule
  • The government cannot lease land for private use, even if a public purpose is arguably to be served.
  • The state’s Attorney has a duty to uphold the law, including appropriate civil or criminal action against County Officers who lease property for private use.

We know, that the last bullet point raised the hackles of a few but before getting all worked up, we challenge you to read ALL of the opinions below and realize, that even the State’s Attorney who did not want to create ill will with their county boards understand their duty.

Public Purpose Education 101

If you have read all of the above, understand that was just the 101 class.  Now go back and read all the case law cited in the opinions to grasp the court’s understanding as it relates to public purpose and how our laws apply. After doing that you have graduated the Public Purpose of Dummies educational basics.

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3 Comments
  • Brian K Anderson
    Posted at 20:01h, 09 April Reply

    I’m a public purpose dummy……can anyone explain to me what the public purpose is of the Mahomet Township Road District, Mahomet, Champaign County, IL paying for the installation of guardrails and providing 65 concrete barriers at a tractor pulling venue in Mansfield, Blue Ridge Township, Piatt County, Illinois? The installation of guardrails cost taxpayers of Mahomet Township $5,850. The concrete barriers cost taxpayers $1,300. I assume the $7,150 must qualify for public purpose as township trustees approved the bills presented. Caution, I did not say they were the true bills, could have been bills prepared by the township themselves to conceal the location of the guardrail installation. Did I happen to mention the road commissioner and his road district employed wife’s hobby is tractor pulling?

  • Michael Hagberg
    Posted at 08:33h, 12 April Reply

    What if the city owned building is leased to a non-profit or not-for-profit entity?
    When it’s leased for $1 per year, shouldn’t the city report an in kind donation for the open market value of the lease?
    When the city pays the electric, gas, sewer, and trash collection, should this also be an in kind donation?

  • Kirk Allen & John Kraft
    Posted at 08:07h, 21 April Reply

    Michael Hagberg, Read the opinions provided. Several speak to non profits. The key is not if they are nonprofit or not but what service do they provide.

    In some of the opinions above it also outline that any lease must be equitable. A $1 lease is not.

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