CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The state Treasurer's Office hopes to roll out an innovative system of using municipal utility bill databases to contact people with unclaimed property.
A pilot program worked well in two Kanawha County towns.
The state is sitting on more than $172 million worth of unclaimed property - usually cash - belonging to more than 922,000 former and current state residents.
While the office maintains an online database and frequently publishes a listing of individuals with unclaimed property, many people still don't know they have money waiting to be claimed.
Last year, Roger Hughes, local government specialist for the Treasurer's Office, began working to find a new way to notify people.
"I just thought, 'Who better to know people in their city than a mayor,' particularly in some of the smaller areas," Hughes said.
Hughes works with local officials in Kanawha, Clay and Roane counties. As part of his job, he frequently reviews lists of unclaimed property totals tied to people living in particular areas.
"I saw these huge numbers," he said. "Nitro had over $300,000, Dunbar had nearly $700,000 and St. Albans had over $1,060,000 - so that's where I had the idea to ask these mayors to help us find these people."
Hughes approached Nitro Mayor Dave Casebolt and St. Albans Mayor Dick Callaway with lists containing names of individuals with unclaimed property tied to city addresses.
Property often becomes "unclaimed" when individuals move and do not receive notices telling them cash or other property is owed to them.
But sometimes people still live at the address tied to the property and are either unaware or have forgotten about bank accounts or other property.
Hughes said Callaway came up with the idea of running the names and addresses on Hughes' unclaimed property list against the city's utility billing database to see if there were any matches.
"I said, 'That's a great idea,' " Hughes said. "Obviously, if people are still paying a bill to the city, they're still there at that address."
Callaway had staff compare the databases last fall. They came up with a list of matching addresses, and the city already has helped residents claim nearly $10,000 worth of property.
St. Albans officials have been working with Hughes to match individuals with their property. They have sent out about a dozen notifications to residents each day.
Callaway said they only do so many each day to avoid overwhelming Hughes, who helps residents complete the claim process.
"We write to them and say, 'Good news, you have some property that you are owed,'" Callaway said.
"They fill out an application form and come by the city building," he said. "We can verify who they are and notarize the application for them. They send it in to the Treasurer's Office, who verifies the claim and issues them a check."