Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas presented a 2% reduction in her annual budget to Cook County Commissioners Thursday, saying she believed a united effort was needed to avoid tax increases.
Cook County Commissioners called the reductions "salutary" and said that Pappas' spending plan for her office should serve as a model for other county agencies.
After meeting a budget benchmark set by the County, Pappas last week vowed to find additional savings when the County Board administration sought new taxes on hotel stays and restaurant meals, both of which Pappas opposes.
"We are all facing financial pressures. It's in the private sector and the public sector. Everyone wants everybody to do more for less," Pappas told the County Board on Thursday. "To that end, I am submitting an additional 2% in proposed budgetary cuts for my office."
The budget cuts will be included in an amendment Pappas is seeking to have unanimous sponsorship.
Pappas expressed gratitude to Cook County Board President John H. Stroger Jr., Cook County Chief Information Officer Catherine Maras O'Leary, Finance Committee Chairman John P. Daley and other commissioners for supporting automation efforts in her office. Those automation efforts have paved the way for increased services in the Treasurer's Office at lower costs, Pappas said. Examples of successful automation have included:
- 813,000 phone calls handled through an automated phone system.
- 2.7 million visits at an interactive Web site for payment, refund and related inquiries.
- 22,000 taxpayer e-mails handled by employees trained in tax research and customer service.
- Reduced staffing from 250 to 178 (down 29%) through attrition without layoffs.
Pappas' office is the second-largest property-tax collection office in the nation, responsible for billing, collecting and distributing $9 billion a year on 1.7 million parcels of real estate for approximately 2,000 taxing districts and sub-agencies.
Commissioner Mike Quigley said he hoped that other agencies would follow the Treasurer's Office's "leadership" on employing technology to deliver reductions in budgets.
Commissioner Tony Peraica called the budget reductions and presentation "salutary," because all too often the board's calls for budget cuts bring dire predictions of drastic service breakdowns, but that should not be the case. "We hear that widows and orphans will be sleeping on the street, patients will be on gurneys and prisoners will be roaming the streets ... I think this (budget) is exactly the kind of message we need to deliver to all of the department heads across the county."
Commissioner Deborah Sims said, "If the other elected officials would take into consideration what you have done, we could do a great justice for the people of Cook County."
Commissioner Bobbie Steele told Pappas, "We need to use your office as a model for other offices." Steele added of successful automation efforts, "We're living in a different time. We shouldn't be entering numbers into ledgers anymore."
Commissioner Elizabeth Ann Doody Gorman jokingly asked Pappas: "Could we sublet you or hire you to teach the other departments on how to cut their budgets? … It's great to see the approvals the board has made and that you've been able to achieve this."