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Cook County says CC Hills owes it $6.6M

Tuesday, May 01, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times

It appears to be anyone’s guess as to why the Cook County treasurer’s office overpaid the city of Country Club Hills by nearly $6.6 million in property tax revenue in 2010.

A county official has acknowledged the mistake, and the county wants the money repaid and is threatening legal action.

But former Country Club Hills Treasurer Michael Gleason said the money was repaid to the city’s bank, and Ald. Vincent Lockett (2nd) said the city wouldn’t be able to afford to repay it in any instance.

Cook County in recent years has often been late sending out and collecting the second installment of property tax bills, requiring towns to borrow money to pay their bills until getting their property tax income.

In 2010, Country Club Hills borrowed nearly $6.6 million from a bank for that reason.

In October that year, the county repaid the bank loan but also gave the city $7.2 million — failing to subtract the funds used to pay off the bank loan.

County Treasurer Maria Pappas said Tuesday the county clerk’s office “made a mistake” in directing her office to give Country Club Hills the extra money.

Bill Vaselopulos, the clerk’s office’s tax extension manager, said the state’s attorney’s office told him not to answer any questions about the error. A state’s attorney’s office spokesman said his office is awaiting direction from Pappas before proceeding in the matter.

Pappas said her office has sought from Country Club Hills the $6.6 million overpayment since December. She described the city as a “defunct government.”

John Schick, chief financial officer for the treasurer’s office, sent a letter to the city April 24, threatening legal action if the money isn’t returned within 30 days. The letter says representatives of the treasurer’s office have spoken and written to city officials concerning the matter several times, but the bill is still outstanding.

“If payment is not received, the office of the state’s attorney will be requested to seek restitution through all possible legal means,” Schick wrote.

Vaselopulos said Country Club Hills’ attorney is cooperating with county prosecutors, leading him to believe the issue will be “resolved quickly.”

Gleason, who was the Country Club Hills treasurer when the overpayment was made, said he believes the city doesn’t owe any money.

“The bank has been overpaid,” said Gleason, who was not re-elected last year. “The city repaid that loan after I left.”

Mayor Dwight Welch did not respond to multiple messages left for him.

Lockett (2nd), a political opponent of Welch’s, said the city can’t afford to give back $6.6 million to the county and remain operational. That would be nearly 20 percent of the city’s $35 million budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

“This deals with the livelihood of every family in the community,” Lockett said. “You can paint a pretty picture for a long time if you have the money, but the bill is due now.”

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