Democratic candidate for Cook County treasurer: Maria Pappas
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On Feb. 22, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked her why she’s seeking re-election in the March 2018 primary. Please see her response in the video below.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent candidates seeking the nomination for Cook County treasurer a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the county. Maria Pappas, the incumbent, submitted the following answers:
QUESTION: The contract for collection of property taxes, now done by Chase Bank, soon will be up for renewal. How much of a float does the bank get? What guidelines will you use to get the best value for the taxpayers in the next contract?
- For all cash deposits, electronic/ACH, or wire payments, which account for roughly two-thirds of all property tax payments, there is virtually no float, i.e., payments are deposited immediately.
- Checks typically post to the Treasurer’s accounts the next business day after they are received.
- The overarching goal in evaluating the next contract will be to get the most value for taxpayers. More specifically, in accordance with county purchasing guidelines, the evaluation committee will seek to contain processing costs, maintain the bank branch payment option, and ensure the safety of the taxpayers’ dollars by continued adherence to our investment policy regarding collateralization of taxpayer funds.
- Cook County Treasurer – 1998 to Present
- Cook County Commissioner – 1990 to 1998
- Government Finance Officers Association
- Illinois County Treasurers’ Association
- National Association of County Collectors, Treasurers and Finance Officers
- The Economics Club of Chicago
- Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce
- Museum in the Park
- Chicago Council on Global Affairs
- The Polish Museum of America
- The Chicago Network
Occupation: Cook County Treasurer
- 1982 – Juris Doctor, Chicago-Kent College of Law, Chicago, Illinois
- 1976 – Ph.D., Counseling and Psychology, Loyola University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
- 1972 – M.A., Guidance and Counseling, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia
- 1972 – Certification, International Adlerian Summer School, West Liberty, West Virginia
- 1970 – B.A., Sociology, West Liberty State College, West Liberty, West Virginia
Campaign website: www.MariaPappas.net
QUESTION: What community benefits should the treasurer consider in determining where to deposit county dollars? Should more be done using the deposit of county dollars to benefit areas that need economic investment?
- The list of depository and investment institutions in which county funds may be placed is a function of state law, Cook County ordinance, and the Treasurer’s Office’s investment policy. All such institutions must meet strict requirements to collateralize funds and maintain liquidity.
- State law requires the Treasurer’s Office to report monthly to the County Board a listing of all active investments and deposits held. [See attached report]. All deposits and investments must be in accordance with the state’s Public Funds Investment Act.
- In accordance with the Cook County Interest Assurance ordinance, the Treasurer’s Office reports to the County Board annually a list of all banks holding County funds. The report includes interest rates earned in each account, and an explanation of any accounts that do not earn interest. Among other requirements, all County depositories must have a Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) rating of “satisfactory” or “outstanding” to participate. [See attached report].
- The Treasurer’s Office also deposits and invests money in accordance with its Investment Policy, which follows the best practices promulgated by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA). In accordance with those best practices, the Treasurer’s Office performs a quarterly bank review of all current and potential banking institutions. [See attached report].
- In order to participate in County investments, a weekly blind investment auction is held, open to any bank, including any community bank, which meets the requirements of our investment policy. Within 24 hours, money is wired to the bank that bid the highest yield.
- Economic investment opportunities and growth are managed by the County’s Bureau of Economic Development which specifically targets areas of the County in accordance with their guidelines.
- As Treasurer of public funds, safety of principal and maintaining necessary liquidity are our most important priorities.
QUESTION: What are your plans or ideas to improve the operations of the office?
- I am exploring the following future projects, including:
Making it more convenient for people to interact with the office online;
Completing an overhaul of the website;
Increasing E-billing participation;
Reducing the number of taxpayers subject to tax sale tax sale;
Issuing checkless refunds; and
Becoming a 100% self-funded office.
- In addition, I want to increase transparency for the taxpayers of the county. I wrote the Debt Disclosure Ordinance that requires the 549 primary local governments in Cook County to report to my office their financial liabilities, debt, pension and other financial data. I am proud that this local government debt and liability data is printed on tax bills and is available on my website, cookcountytreasurer.com. I want to find additional innovative ways for citizens to obtain the information they need in order to ask their local governments why their taxes always seem to be rising.
QUESTION: Does the office of county treasurer need to be an elective office? Should the treasurer be appointed, or should the office’s functions be combined with another office?
- The Treasurer’s Office should be an elected position because taxpayers should have the opportunity to choose who safely keeps and invests their public funds. More importantly, they should be able to hold that official to account.
- The Treasurer’s Office should not be combined with another office. Much as the Federal Reserve maintains a great measure of independence from the rest of the federal government, so should the safekeeping role of the Treasurer remain distinct and independent from the other offices, which have their own responsibilities and may have divergent agendas.
- Rather than be combined with another office, it may make sense for the Treasurer’s Office to take on some duties currently performed by other offices/agencies:
- The Clerk’s Office has a limited tax collection function, namely, producing tax bills for unpaid prior tax years and collecting redemption bills after a tax sale occurs. As ex officio tax collector, I would consider taking over those collection functions from the Clerk. That may be an opportunity to streamline a process and yield an efficiency – which is what I’m all about.
- I would also be willing to discuss taking over the tax collection functions once performed by the Treasurer’s Office and now performed by the Cook County Department of Revenue.
QUESTION: Let’s say you get a call from a ward committeeman who politically supports you. The committeeman tells you of an individual who has worked hard for you and would like to be considered for a job. What do you say?
- All candidates for positions at the Treasurer’s Office must pass a Microsoft Excel pivot table test and a Microsoft Word competency test. No candidate for employment at the Treasurer’s Office is given preferential treatment.
QUESTION: The County Board in 2017 trimmed funding for all county offices headed by independently elected officials. Is the funding for the treasurer’s office sufficient to permit the office to function effectively?
- Throughout my tenure as Treasurer, I have always done more with less. When I became Treasurer, there were 250 employees. If I still had 250 employees, my budget would be about $43 million. Instead, I have 88 employees and a budget of $12.9 million – which is sufficient for my office to function quite effectively. Only $900,000 of that $12.9 million comes from taxpayers. The rest of it is paid by commercial fees I charge in exchange for enhanced services.
QUESTION: In recent years, the treasurer’s office has contracted out a part of its workload. Has that created more room to reduce the number of full-time employees in the office?
- My contract with Chase Bank is the only significant service contract.
- The primary reason I have been able to reduce the number of full-time employees in the Treasurer’s Office is successful automation, including in-house programming and internal systems development, which has maximized efficiencies. Specifically: For 17 consecutive years, I have reduced my taxpayer-funded portion of my budget. There were 250 employees in 1998. Now, there are 88 employees.
- I used to operate and staff six office locations in the county. Now I only have one office. By virtue of the contract with Chase and our collaboration with local community banks, there nearly 600 locations that accept tax payments from property owners.
- These factors, and other automation initiatives below, have enabled me to reduce the number of full-time employees in the office.
- My website gets 450,000 visits every month and is a virtual one-stop shop for property owners.
- My website is translated into 103 different languages with a push of a button; there is no need to hire translators.
- The office has received and answered some 137,000 emails since 2003. Automatic responses are generated before a taxpayer submits a question.
- In 1998, there were two payment options. Now, there are nine payment options, including mortgage company electronic wire payments, bulk commercial direct bank debits, individual online bank account debits and individual credit card payments.
- Since 2002, we have collected more than four million online payments. Yearly, 460,000 online payments are made from individual property owners.
- The office receives a daily file that contains new owners’ names and mailing addresses, and automatically changes where tax bills are sent to ensure new owners receive their bills.
- I designed a program that, since 2010, has “stopped” almost 75,000 overpayments (about $317 million) which would have had to be processed as refunds and returned to taxpayers.
I take tremendous pride in being about to reduce my budget over the years without sacrificing services. Many people ask me how I have done it. I have counselled hundreds of foreign officials and local governments on operating an efficient office. The key is to make sound decisions about modernization and automation so taxpayers can reap the benefits without having to pay more.