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Cook County Tax Bills Show Municipalities’ Debt

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Jay Levine Jay Levine
Jay Levine is the chief correspondent for CBS 2 Chicago. He joined...
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CHICAGO (CBS)Real estate news wire announced tax bills will be on the way tomorrow for Cook County residents, many of them containing the cold, hard truth about where we stand. And it isn’t pretty.

Chief correspondent Jay Levine has been crunching the numbers all day, after CBS 2 broke the story last night, to find out how bad things are.

Taxing bodies most people probably never heard of, let alone realized they were responsible for a big part of your property taxes. They build and run libraries and schools and parks. Some of which you didn’t need or couldn’t afford, but you’re paying for them, anyway. Now you’ll know.

“1.7 million people are gonnna be happy next week, because they’re gonna be armed with knowledge for the first time. So 30 people aren’t happy, who cares?” said Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas.

Those 30 run taxing bodies whose financial distress will now be right there on your bill. Their debts and liabilities versus their operating revenue.

CBS 2 drilled down into those numbers today on the treasurer’s website and found examples like the Summit Public Library District, with debts and liabilities of $5.5million dollars versus operating revenues of $300,000. In other words, they owe 18 times what they take in every year.

The South Lyons Township Sanitary District has debts of $4.3 million; revenues of 300,000, or 17 times more debt than revenue. And the Hanover Park Park District has debts of $6.5 million, revenues of $400,000. That’s a multiple of 15.

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

“In many cases municipalities paid too much for things that they didn’t need,” he says.

Liabilities also include unfunded pensions, Cicero’s pension funds are $168 million short; its retirees pensions just 34 percent funded.

The village of Melrose Park is $118 million short, with just 30 percent funded. Summit, 37 million short, which translates to a funding level of just 23 percent. And its homeowners who’re on the hook.

“And when they start looking at these numbers and some of the ratios, I think they’re gonna be surprised at how deep in the red their hometown is,” says Reed.

Treasurer Pappas says all the numbers were gathered from financial reports filed by the individual taxing bodies. CBS 2 was able to gather all the information for this report from the tax bills and her website and are available here.

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