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Cook County Tax Bills Detail Debt

by Bob Tivnan, Chicago, February 2013

 

Government debt is one of the main reasons why property tax bills keep going up. When police, schools, or any other tax jurisdictions borrow money, residents must pay it back through higher property taxes.

 

Property tax bills in Cook County, Illinois are now documenting just how much debt taxpayers are shouldering.

 

The Devil is in the Details

 

Previously, property tax bills had a breakdown of how much money goes to each Cook County agency. But now, the data includes more detail for each taxing body, including:

 

  • Total debt

  • Operating budget

  • Pension liability

  • Unfunded pension liability

  • Pension funding ratio

 

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas says the information is important for all taxpayers. "What this does is call to light the fact that they are not just purchasing a property, they are purchasing the credit card debt of up to 14 governments.

 

Governments Have Overspent

 

The data shows many agencies are deep in red ink. For example, the Summit Public Library District has debts and liabilities of $5.5 million versus operating revenues of $300,000. This means they owe 18 times as much as they take in every year.

 

The South Lyons Township Sanitary District has debts of $4.3 million and revenues of $300,000, which works out to 17 times more debt than revenue.

 

"The numbers are an indication that local governments have overspent," according to Bob Reed, director of investigations for the Better Government Association.

 

Unfunded pensions are also a big factor. For example, Cicero's pension funds are $168 million in the red with just 34% of its retirees' pensions funded. And the village of Melrose Park is $118 million short, with just 30% of its pensions funded.

 

More details regarding this new Cook County tax bill format are explained in a video by the Cook County Treasurer's office at this link.