Maria Pappas has implemented sweeping reforms as Cook County Treasurer, building on a public career that has focused on delivering government services more efficiently.
Pappas has turned the Cook County Treasurer’s Office into a model of efficiency. Among Pappas' achievements:
- Reduced the staff by 58% (250 positions to 105.2 positions)
- Submitted annual budgets for the #060 County Treasurer Corporate Budget below the previous year, for twelve consecutive budgets
- Provided taxpayers with hundreds of new payment locations
- Delivered new 24-hour Internet and automated phone systems to taxpayers
- Created outreach materials in English and 23 languages
As Cook County Treasurer, Pappas manages the second largest property tax collection in the United States. Pappas' office collects, invests and distributes $11 billion a year in real estate taxes on behalf of approximately 2,200 local government agencies.
Prior to being elected Treasurer, Pappas served eight years in the legislative branch of government as an elected Cook County Commissioner. On the County Board, Pappas built a reputation as the leading budget hawk, securing spending reductions that ultimately led to property tax cuts. Pappas also led the charge for Cook County's first ethics ordinance, human-rights legislation and to require competitive bidding on bond issues.
Pappas' education includes a doctorate in psychology and counseling and a law degree. Pappas has taught across the United States, in Israel and in eight European countries.
When Pappas first became Treasurer in December 1998, she discovered $31 million in undeposited checks – not earning interest. With County Board support, Pappas initiated a lockbox system for collecting and processing taxes. This meant same-day deposits, immediate interest earnings and quicker distributions to taxing agencies. The year before the lockbox, the county realized $4.79 million in interest earnings. With the lockbox, earnings rose to nearly $19 million the first year, $26 million the next.
Under Pappas, the office went from four stand-alone computers and eight typewriters to a networked system of 150 computers. A new network integrates collections, deposits, earnings, distributions, refunds and other data previously logged manually. The integrated cashiering and general-ledger systems also resulted in speedier access to payment and data for taxpayers and local government agencies.
Overall, Pappas made paying property taxes more convenient. Beginning in 2005, taxpayers may now pay at nearly 400 Chase locations throughout Chicagoland. Prior to Chase, LaSalle Bank provided the service. Through these systems, over 10.2 million payments have been made at bank branches.
Pappas' office also designed cookcountytreasurer.com to be interactive and informative. Taxpayers now can pay current and prior year taxes online. They can check payment status, search if a refund is available and check on exemptions. Additionally, the site offers a vast amount of information, downloadable forms and applications, information on mortgage escrow, taxing agency debt disclosure, and answers to frequently asked questions. The site also offers information in English and 23 languages.
Another convenience for taxpayers is the automated phone system at 312.443.5100. There, taxpayers receive assistance in English, Polish and Spanish. Taxpayers can determine payment status, search for refunds and order applications to be faxed or mailed. The system handles over 1,200 calls every day.
Another program initiated by Pappas, Treasurer’s Outreach Program and Services (TOPS) addresses the county’s great diversity. TOPS is a grassroots effort providing tax information to Cook County’s ethnic communities. TOPS distributes property tax information brochures in English and 23 languages and provides speakers to help property owners learn how to minimize their taxes and find refunds that may be available.
Treasurer's Outreach Program informs taxpayers about the Cook county property-tax system. Several informational brochures are currently available in English and 23 languages: Albanian, Arabic, Assyrian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovakian, Spanish, Thai, Ukrainian and Urdu.
Pappas remains active in seminars and think-tank sessions. In the summer of 2003, Pappas participated in the European Union Summit in Greece. In 2001, Pappas participated in the prestigious Aspen Institute Executive Seminar. The mission of the Aspen Institute, an international not-for-profit organization, is to foster enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue on contemporary issues.
Pappas’ public career began in 1990 when she was elected Cook County Commissioner, a post she held for eight years. Representing Chicago’s North Side and North Shore suburbs, Pappas built a reputation as a proponent of tax cuts and open government. She also initiated and successfully fought for human rights ordinances. Pappas introduced measures to install reform in areas such as truth-in-lending budgeting, ending no-bid legal and bond-issue contracts, and status reports by outside consultants. She also co-authored an extensive study on teenage pregnancy, outlining a program to combat this societal issue.
Pappas’ education includes: Juris Doctor, I.I.T. Chicago-Kent College of Law, Chicago, 1982; Ph.D., Counseling and Psychology, Loyola University of Chicago, Chicago, 1976; M.A., Guidance and Counseling, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, 1972; B.A., Sociology, West Liberty State College, West Liberty, West Virginia, 1970.
The granddaughter of Greek immigrants, Pappas was born on June 7, 1949. She was raised in Warwood, West Virginia, a town of 2,000, near the coal-mining city of Wheeling, where her parents still live. As a child, she studied music and the Greek language and twirled a baton as a drum major.
Pappas is an avid bicyclist, participating in triathlons and long-distance rides for charity, including: 500-mile Midwest AIDS Ride from Minneapolis to Chicago; Cowalunga Tour to benefit the American Lung Association; and two Ground Zero-to-Pentagon rides to commemorate the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.