Cook Co. property tax bills, suburban debts online

May 2, 2012 2:51:34 PM PDT
Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas warned prospective home buyers to consider a suburb's debt obligation before closing the deal.

Pappas called out dozens of suburbs for their debt troubles on Wednesday. Her comments could make it more difficult for property sellers and realtors in certain areas.

"This will be Maria Pappas' legacy... that she left this information," Pappas said Wednesday as her office gave reporters booklets with information about what's owed- mostly the unfunded pension liabilities- of over 400 local governmental agencies.

Pappas said the situation had worsened to the point that potential home buyers should stop and think before purchasing suburban real estate.

"It's time to say, 'What am I buying into?' in each of these communities," Pappas said.

Pappas was joined by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and County Finance Committee Chairman John Daley at the unveiling of, a website that allows homeowners to not only to see their property tax bills in detail, but also the debt load of the suburban governments and agencies levying the taxes.

"It makes it easier to show taxpayers where their money goes and how much their governments owe," County President Preckwinkle said.

"Evanston. The unfunded pension liability is $205 million," Pappas said.

An Evanston spokesman conceded the suburb had a significant unfunded pension liability and said, "Residents appreciate excellent neighborhood-based schools, access to parks and lakefront amenities," among other advantages.

John Niemiec of Oak Park suspects debt issues in his local school district are fueling his property bills.

"I was just told that the values have gone down in our area but according to what I've been getting in the mail the last couple of years, no, it doesn't seem that way," Niemiec said.

Treasurer Pappas said the total debt for Cook County governments -- including the City of Chicago -- is $140 billion. But the breakdown of her numbers suggest that dozens of suburban municipalities are far worse off than the city when it comes to how much they owe and their capacity to raise revenue.

"The only place, Mr. Thomas, that a suburban area has to go to is the property tax," Pappas said.

Pappas would not comment on other counties, but said she suspects similar situations exist elsewhere in the region.

Find out the debt situation in your area at