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Cook County opens data website for taxpayers

Wednesday, May 02, 2012
Chicago Tribune
by Joseph Ryan

Cook County taxpayers can use a new website to investigate the finances of most governments that are taxing them.

Salary bumps, debt burden, money owed on local public pensions and a decade of tax levy amounts are a keystroke away — tied to property tax bills accessible via a county “portal” website.

The website was unveiled today by county Treasurer Maria Pappas and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Pappas said it was the first such site in the country.

Pappas said the information is not only useful to property owners but also to those shopping for homes. They can now see how much taxes have risen as well as how much government debt they might have to help pay off in the long run.

“It is time to say, ‘What am I buying into in each of these communities?’” Pappas said.

The data is submitted to the county by taxing agencies across Cook County, including Chicago. However, Pappas said, 64 of 553 local governments have yet to file the information.

For those that did, Pappas said the total debt load facing local governments in Cook County adds up to more than $140 billion.

But Preckwinkle cautioned that not all government debt is bad because some is tied to road and sewer upgrades. Data on the website don’t make that distinction for taxpayers.

“We all know that sometimes debt … is a good thing,” Preckwinkle said.

About $34 billion of the debt figure is money owed on the pensions and health care benefits promised to current and future retirees, including firefighters, police and administrators, according to Pappas’ office.

Salaries are usually the lion’s share of a local government’s spending. Pappas said the average annual salary increase is about 5 percent.

To pay for rising salaries, debt and other expenses over the last decade, property tax levies across the county have risen 48 percent, Pappas said.

The new website can be accessed through cookcountypropertyinfo.com.


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