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Local government debt will be listed in tax bills

Cook County Treasurer MariPappas | File photo

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas | File photo

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Updated: February 28, 2013 6:59AM

When your park district, school system, city or police department borrows money, you are on the hook to pay it back through property taxes.

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas will hammer that point home next week, when tax bills listing exactly just how much debt local governments have racked up will start to appear in mail boxes.

“When they open these bills on Monday its going to be shock city,” Pappas said. “They’re going to realize that they may be living in a suburb that has six or seven hundred million dollars of debt and there’s only 30,000 people living in the suburb.”

Pappas believes government debt is the major reason tax bills are going up and she has been on a mission to inform taxpayers just what their governments owe. In 2009, Pappas got the county to pass an ordinance requiring all local governments to submit debt data to her office, which puts it online.

Now after eight months of computer programming, the debt data will now be printed on tax bills.

Previous tax bills had a breakdown of how much of a taxpayer’s money goes to each agency, from mosquito abatement districts to Cook County government.

Now data on tax bills also will include for each taxing body: total debt, operating budget, pension liability, unfunded pension liability and the pension funding ratio.

A sample bill for an Arlington Heights resident shows $118 million of unfunded pension liability for the Village of Arlington Heights and $104.6 million in debt incurred by the local high school district. It also shows another $49.6 million in unfunded pension liability for the local high school district.

Pappas said this data and the data posted online should help taxpayers vote with their feet when it comes to determining a place to live. “What this will do is call to the light the fact that they are not just purchasing a home, they are purchasing the credit card debt of [up to] 14 governments.”

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