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Editorial: Persistent Pappas presses on

Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Daily Southtown

Whether she truly views herself as Cook County’s Taxpayer Defender or is trying to burnish her image for a run for higher office, or both, county Treasurer Maria Pappas has been keeping the heat on local government.

Whatever her motive, we’re glad she’s doing it and hope she keeps it up.

Her office, along with three watchdog organizations, in March released the results of a study on how sharply property tax levies had risen in the county from 2000 to 2010 — more than twice the inflation rate during that decade.

Higher pension obligations and too many taxing bodies in the county (553 total) are the main reasons, and such government spending is unsustainable, the study concluded. We couldn’t agree more.

The tax levy, the major factor in determining your tax bill, is set by a local government and is the amount it seeks to raise via the property tax as part of its budget.

Rather than tighten their belts and give property owners a break during a terrible recession and plunging property values, too many of our local governments kept raising their levy to try to maintain the spending status quo. The study showed that of the taxing districts with the 25 largest property tax increases during that decade, 11 were in the Southland. Not a badge of honor.

Pappas also has used a county ordinance to require taxing districts to post their 2011 debt level on the treasurer’s office website so taxpayers can see how a district has been spending their tax dollars and how much it owes.

Under the ordinance, all 553 districts were to upload their information to the website by Dec. 27, but as of last week 63 still had not, with 30 of the noncompliant governments being in the Southland. Again, not something to be proud of.

Pappas’ office now is using Illinois’ freedom of information law, something it should not have to do if taxing bodies were responsible and responsive. If they don’t comply, they can be sued and fined. We urge them to get moving. If they don’t, we might think they have something to hide.

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