Democratic candidate for Treasurer
Responses to our questions
Compare and contrast: Why should voters elect you and not your opponent? Your campaign materials explain your general qualifications for office, so you needn't repeat that information. We're instead asking you to help us do what voters must do - choose one candidate over the other.
The Tribune Editorial Board asks that I compare and contrast why voters should nominate me and not my opponent in the Primary Election for Cook County Treasurer. The reason lies in the difference between running for something and doing something, between unfounded criticism and real accomplishment.
Walking through the door as Treasurer in December 1998 was a step into the dark ages. Uncashed checks totaling $30 million sat in trays on the floor months after the tax due date. There was no lockbox; checks were recorded by hand. Filing cabinets were stuffed with paper which spilled out onto tables, desks and tattered carpeting. Communications with taxpayers was all but non-existent; the office had no website. The only places to pay were downtown and five satellite offices, where lines grew painfully long. I knew we had to automate.
Most recently, when no other Illinois county had the ability for taxpayers to prepay 2017 taxes, my office was ready. We had electronic capability in place for taxpayers to simply pay online or to download their bill and pay at a Chase Bank.
We have collected $750 million in prepayments, money that will ease financial burdens on local governments. For the upcoming 2017 First Installment, all online payments from a taxpayer's bank account will be free. The $1.00 convenience fee will be eliminated. We established a delinquent tax outreach program to increase awareness among the most vulnerable citizens whose taxes, if left unpaid, may result in a loss of their home.
The tax sale has the biggest impact on individual, residential property owners who owe small amounts on their homes. The office sent multiple delinquent notices and continues to partner with various elected officials throughout the city and suburbs. Due to this outreach, there were only 11,031 PINs sold last year, the fewest number sold in the last ten years. Our efforts continue with Aldermen, County Commissioners, State Representatives, State Senators and Municipalities as the next annual sale will be held in May 2018.
Here are other accomplishments:
- Budget: My budget is $12.9 million, only $900,000 of which comes from taxpayer revenues. My office is funded by commercial users paying for efficiencies we provide them. This is the 17th straight year my corporate budget has been reduced.
- Staff Reductions: Down from 250 in 1998 to 88.5, (64.6 percent). If we had not reduced staff, the Treasurer's Office budget would be $43 million.
- Debt Disclosure Ordinance: The DDO has provided bright sunshine indeed to the idea of transparency in government. I drafted the DDO and the County Board passed it at my urging to require 549 primary local governments provide their financial data and reports annually so that my office can display it on tax bills and my website. Taxpayers can demand that governments explain why taxes seem to be always rising.
- Automated Tax Sale: Turned an open-outcry auction of unpaid taxes that took nearly a month to an automated process that takes four days.
- Returned Mail Project: Instituted a project to reduce the number of tax bills returned as undeliverable by the USPS. Over 30,000 bills were delivered that would have otherwise been returned.
- Electronic Tax Billing Program: Program that allows taxpayers to receive each tax bill via email instead of a physical hard copy bill. 33,572 bills are sent via email.
- Downloadable Electronic Tax Bill: In July 2017, the office began offering taxpayers the option to download or print their PDF tax bill. 92,889 have been downloaded.
- Payments: In 1998, there were two payment options. Now, there are nine payment options, including online and credit card. Since 2002, we have collected more than four million online payments. Yearly, 460,000 online payments are made: 143,000 credit cards payments have been paid since July 2012.
- Website: With 54 million visitors since 2004, cookcountytreasurer.com is the website that never sleeps. Visitors pay; check payment status; search for refunds; check four-year exemption history; download forms, applications and brochures; get taxing agency data via the DDO; and see information in 103 languages: Informational brochures have been downloaded 480,339 times since 2006 with foreign language brochures downloaded 402,503 times.
- Automated Phone System: In English, Polish and Spanish, 323,903 inquiries were received from January 1, 2016 to March 1, 2017, providing information on payments and refunds. Our call center also handled 67,000 live inquiries.
- Email System: Received and answered some 137,000 emails since 2003. Automatic responses are generated before a taxpayer submits a question.
- Automatic Name/Address Changes: The office receives a daily file that contains updated owners' names and addresses and automatically changes where tax bills are sent to ensure the new owner gets their bill.
- War on Paper: Incorporated 4,765,458 individual paper pages from 12,011 worn and crumbling Warrant Books into an electronic system. The office implemented the first phase of a Paperless Customer Service System in 2016.
- Stopping Overpayments: Designed a program that, since 2010, has "stopped" more than 65,000 overpayments (about $272 million) which would have had to be processed as refunds and returned to taxpayers.
- Refund Enhancements: Reduced processing time for Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB) refund by importing an electronic file and eliminating paper applications. For court-ordered refunds, the office created a web-based interface that attorneys utilize during court proceedings and refund process. Additionally, future projects are listed on my website within the State of the Office report.
The Treasurer's Office collects about $13 billion yearly in two installments on almost 1.8 million parcels of real estate in Cook County (second most populous in the country), then distributes that revenue to some 2,000 taxing districts. Again, it is not just "something" to run for. It is too important. Because I have turned the office into an example for others and have a vision that improves it, I request the endorsement from the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board for Cook County Treasurer.