RACE: Cook County Treasurer

About the Candidate

Name: Maria Pappas
DOB: June 6, 1949
Occupation: Illinois State Treasurer 
Political Experience: Treasurer
Website: mariapappas.com

Candidate Statement

Hi, I’m Maria Pappas, Cook County Treasurer. Although I’m running unopposed, I’m taking this opportunity to tell you some great information about CookCountyTreasurer.com.

You don’t have to be a property owner in Cook County, and you can do this for anyone, a friend, a relative neighbor, get to CookCountyTreasurer.com.  In our highest month, we’ve had 2 million visitors. Once you get there, you put in your address – don’t put in north, south, east or west – and immediately a picture of your home commercial property or lot will show up. You can then scroll down, and see whether or not you’ve paid.

You can pay online, but then you come to some really valuable information. Two pieces, in fact. One tells you whether or not you have overpaid going back 20 years on your property and we’re sitting on $79 million.  Then you can scroll down just a little more and we will tell you whether or not, going back four years, if you missed a homeowner’s, a senior, or a senior freeze exemption for any of those years, it’s like $500. So, if you’re a homeowner for more than a year and you missed your homeowner’s exemption for four years, we can give you back $2,000 and you can apply online to get it. And we’ll have it back to you within four to six weeks.

The other wonderful thing about this website is in the bottom left-hand corner, there are a series of studies. They’re called the Pappas Studies. You can get a 20-year history of your property taxes. You can also look at all of the governments in your area that are charging you, how much they’re charging you and what their unfunded liability is. We also are making this very user-friendly. This website is up in 120 languages. So get to CookCountyTreasurer.com, put in your address, and you may get some really good news and you’ll be able to study everything about your property.

Candidate Q&A

Why are you running?

I am running to keep getting better at my job. Every day I wake up and ask, what can we do better at the office?  I am running because I love public service, which means serving people.  I am running because doing that gives you the best education possible, the kind that can come only from the people.  I love people, and I meet them by the thousands as Treasurer. Their needs can be overwhelming, and I want to help them.

What does this office do well, and what needs fixing?

We do efficiency well. When I became Treasurer, the office had 250 employees.  Today it has 58 employees and a budget that is about the same as it was back then. That means efficiency.  Without that efficiency, my office’s budget would be $55.5 million instead of $12.7 million – and less than ten percent of that comes from taxpayers. The rest comes from users of our services.

I want to make the office operate completely free of revenues from taxpayers.  And I want to make it completely paperless. Thanks to my emphasis on technology, we have saved complete forests from becoming paper files in my office, but I won’t be satisfied until we’ve filed our last sheet of paper. I like trees.

What is the most pressing issue facing your constituents and how do you plan on addressing it?

Rising property taxes is the greatest concern of the people I serve.  Through no fault of their own, they haven’t known who was taxing them and why, and how much debt did their governments owe. So I began giving them that information on their bills and online.  This helps bring more than a million visitors a month to my website, cookcountytreasurer.com.  And now more people understand property taxes better, and are better prepared to hold governments accountable for their taxation policies.

What specific steps would you take to ensure your office is accessible and responsive to your constituents?

I have named honorary deputy treasurers from every possible ethnic community in Cook County and confer with them on a regular basis about what my office is doing and what their people need.  My office is one that listens to people.  My website can provide information in more than 100 languages. I intend to continue developing more of my Pappas Studies, a series of papers on the property tax system.  Our first Pappas Study was a 20-year review of the increase of property taxes in Cook County. Not only is my office open, we go out and find people – usually seniors — who owe unpaid taxes and/or may have refunds coming.  My Black and Latino Houses Matter program has returned more than $100 million to people, many of whom were surprised to find that government owed them money and was now knocking on their door to pay them back.