County treasurer’s “lockbox” plays key role in Cook solvency

11 Nov

Who: Maria Pappas

Office: Cook County Treasurer

Job Description: As the manager of the second largest tax collection office in the U.S., the Cook County Treasurer is responsible for over $9 billion collected annually. The Treasurer’s Office is in charge of mailing, collecting, investing and distributing all real estate taxes for Cook County. Much work goes into the collection, which happens twice a year, including certifying refunds, investigating delinquent properties, accounting and auditing and processing court orders, among other things. The office also acts as banker of Cook County, keeping financial records and approving much of the accounts in many county operations.

Personal: Pappas served eight years as a Cook County Commissioner before becoming the Cook County Treasurer in 1998. Since she took office, she has reduced her office staff from 250 to 121 positions. In addition to providing tax payers with hundreds of new tax payer locations, she added 150 computers to her office which provides immediate access and processing of the taxes.

Pappas initiated a “lockbox” system which immediately processed checks earning millions of dollars in interest. In its first year, the “lockbox” earned the county $19 million more than the previous year. Creating outlook materials in English and 21 other languages, is just another way Pappas has tried to reach taxpayers and make her office more accessible.

Outlook: Pappas has a big job ahead of her. Cook County is projected to face a budget shortfall in 2011. The County has also been attacked by critics for its per capita spending which has seemed to balloon with limited access to records and information on where the money is being spent.

Courtney Sturgeon

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